Schools have long been the primary support for families in the area of academic development. But now, schools also address students’ physical and nutritional needs, social and emotional needs and even the mental health needs of children. Current statistics state that at least 1 out of 5 children show signs of mental illness. These illnesses can include depression and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, ADHD, anger issues and even suicide. In children challenged with poverty, that 1 in 5 number can soar much higher. Schools have to be informed and equipped to address these needs.

The Webster School, an elementary Pre-K to 5th grade school in St. Johns County, has partnered with Children’s Home Society, Flagler Health+ and St. Johns River Community College to support students in need. As a Title 1 school, at least 75% of the Webster students are processing the challenges of trauma. The Community Partnership School organized by these three Core Partners along with the St Johns County School District is assisting and supporting families in many areas. One of the greatest areas of early success has been mental health. Webster now has two full-time mental health counselors supporting students in need. These two counselors meet with children both one-on–one and in small groups to support their mental health. Providing this support through school helps families get the assistance needed when they may not otherwise be able to access these resources.

In addition, Webster has started Morning Meetings in every classroom where students are able to build a classroom community, practice manners, social skills and self-regulation skills. Students learn to identify their emotions accurately as well as develop tools to respond to stress appropriately.

While summer is often a stress-free time for children, for those with trauma exposure or mental health needs, summer may not necessarily be an easy time. The administrators and counselors at Webster would like to offer these summertime suggestions to parents as they support mentally healthy children.

1) Get Children Outside – Light exposure and exercise are both healthy ways in which the body regulates its own wellness. Endorphins fuel positive hormones in the body that can lift overall mood and emotional outlook.

2) Limit Screen Time – Time outside of school is extra time to pursue other interests and build relationships, not just sitting in front of TVs, phones and computers. More than 2 hours of screen time per day can have very unhealthy effects on children of all ages. Instead of screens, encourage your child to read, pursue crafts, draw, play sports, enjoy nature, and engage in outdoor activities and behaviors that use their imagination.

3) Continue Routines – Most children, and especially those processing the effects of trauma, respond positively to routines. Keeping a set bedtime, time to wake up, and mealtime, helps children’s bodies stay regulated and provides a sense of comfort from the predictability of routines.

4) Keep Your Children Social – Children need access to playmates, especially since their classmates may live in different neighborhoods. Plan to take children to the park, beach or playground. Encourage them to meet their friends there to encourage healthy social interaction and to fend off boredom and depression.

5) Be Mindful of Nutrition – The heat can decrease the appetite of some children. Make sure to keep children eating healthy and maintaining a proper intake of water and fluids to prevent dehydration.

6) Remember School is Still Here – While children are out and teachers are off, there are still those who work through the summer at schools and can connect families with resources to meet needs. Please call your local school if your family needs support through the summer.

Bethany Groves

This native Kentuckian, Bethany Groves received her Bachelors in Elementary Education from OU, and Masters in Reading from NKU. After teaching several years, Ms. Groves completed her Educational Leadership Certification from IUPUI and then transplanted to her new home in St. Augustine where she has been an administrator in the St. Johns County School District for 13 years.