Is it possible to be impressed and sad at the same time?
That’s the rather unusual combination of reactions we — and, probably, others — had to the recent approval by school board members of a comprehensive mental health/behavior plan for the Norfolk Public Schools.
It is, indeed, an impressive plan, drawing upon community partnerships as well as a framework developed by the Nebraska Department of Education.
Consider how comprehensive the plan looks to be:
— At the preschool level, the Norfolk Family Coalition has a grant to purchase the needed equipment to host what’s known as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy with Midtown Health Center of Norfolk providing these services to students.
— At the elementary level, Midtown Health will provide the district with a grant-funded licensed mental health practitioner to serve students at no cost to the district, which will provide the space.
— At the middle school and junior high, Oasis Counseling International of Norfolk will provide a licensed mental health practitioner at no cost to the district.
— And at Norfolk High School, the district will contract with Northeast Nebraska’s Educational Service Unit 8 for a licensed mental health practitioner, which the district will pay for with state aid dollars. This individual will also coordinate and supervise services across the district.
After the plan is put in place for 2019-20, Dr. Jami Jo Thompson, superintendent of schools, said she anticipates the district would hire a behavioral specialist and possibly more licensed mental health practitioners.
“This is a vital step to ensuring a safe and positive learning environment for our students and staff,” she said recently.
We agree. But we’re also saddened that society today is such that so many resources are needed to address the mental health needs of students. The idea of needing a mental health practitioner available to help kindergarten students or first-graders is something one probably couldn’t have imagined decades ago.
But here’s the reality: “We have seen a drastic increase in mental health issues and behavior concerns across the state and nation. Norfolk Public Schools is no exception,” Dr. Thompson said.
Given that, a comprehensive mental health plan is necessary and we’re glad the Norfolk district has done the work to put one into place.