BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
GREENFIELD (November 22) – Between the cafeteria and the middle school in Greenfield a new vibe can be felt. On one side of the orange and black checkerboard painted hallway floor are the much-anticipated Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) labs for elementary and middle/high school students. On the other, color, creativity, and calm combine. Jaquelynn Dortch, the new K-12th grade art teacher has transformed a standard classroom into an art studio while Hailey Hanson, the School-Based Behavioral Health Liaison (SBBHL), has fashioned a space to instill a sense of calm and well-being for those who enter.
Though finding STEM subjects and art at a school would surprise few, the hands-on innovative approach of the former and the commitment of a fulltime position for all ages for the latter do suggest transformative thinking is at play. However, the addition of Hanson may be the most radical.
“It’s tantamount to locating a satellite office of Carey Counseling in Greenfield School,” noted Lorna Benson, Weakley County’s Coordinator of Safe Schools, of the positioning made possible due to a grant awarded to Carey Counseling from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Benson applauds the longstanding relationship between Weakley County Schools and Carey Counseling that allows access to therapy options for all students. But she is especially excited to see one of the barriers to addressing mental health concerns acknowledged.
“A lot of times, a child in need also has transportation problems,” she explained. “By locating help on the campus, it eliminates that problem, and we hope to help families feel more at ease with participating with services to help their child succeed in school.”
Hanson arrived in Greenfield in January 2021. She holds a BSW from Freed Hardeman and an MSW from Union University. She is one of five SBBHLs placed in the area. Others are positioned at Obion County Central, Huntingdon, Lake County, and Inman.
Along with giving both students and teachers someone to talk to during stressful times, Hanson says her job is to “increase awareness of mental health and be an advocate in order to reduce the stigma often associated with the subject.”
To help teachers and students gain perspective, she focuses on training sessions on topics such as Adverse Childhood Experiences and how early trauma can translate into negative behaviors in the classroom.
“That kid who is falling asleep or acting out may need us to pause and think about what is causing such behavior rather than immediately react to it in the moment,” she noted.
She also has produced a stress management newsletter and assumed responsibility for the Great Kindness Challenge last spring and an interactive gratitude wall this November.
Climate enhancement is part of the grant so the moment a teacher or student walks into the space Hanson has created using comfortable furniture, calming colors, and soft lighting a redirecting toward mindfulness begins.
“In the course of a day, students who have had some type of trauma can go into crisis mode,” observed Principal Jeff Cupples. “Having an expert on hand and being able to get immediate help will lead to coping and hopefully healing quicker.”
He added that for behavioral issues that get in the way of academic success having Hanson on campus may mean they can talk, calm down, and finish the day on a positive note.
An October 2021 publication “Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs” by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, notes schools must address three critical and inter-related components of mental health: “social (how we relate to others), emotional (how we feel), and behavioral (how we act).” It suggests offering mental health services in the school setting may be met with less stigma than in a traditional, community-based mental health setting and when the child or student does not have to leave the setting to attend appointments, they may be more willing to receive mental health services.
As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”
In 2018, nearly 3.5 million adolescents received mental health services in education settings. In a survey conducted in April and May 2020, one in four youth (ages 13–19) reported an increase in sleep loss due to worry, feeling unhappy or depressed, feeling constantly under strain, and loss of confidence in themselves.
Even before the pandemic, as students entered their K–12 school experience, schools were reporting earlier onset, increased prevalence, and greater intensity and complexity of student mental health needs.
“We are hopeful that we can soon expand the School-Based Behavioral Health Liaison to more schools in our system,” said Benson. “We know that we are living in stressful times, and we want students, teachers, administrators, and families to have the resources they need to both cope with what they are facing and become mentally and emotionally strong for the future.”