MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama schools are gearing up for the new year, with many focusing on student mental health. Last year, 114 out of 138 school districts in Alabama had a mental health service coordinator.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey wants to see that number grow.
During a board meeting Tuesday, Mackey said the program has been well-received, but having just one coordinator per district might not be enough for districts with thousands of students.
“So we’ll be going back to the legislature this year, I feel certain in asking for additional increases in that,” Mackey said.
The coordinators don’t conduct therapy or provide services themselves, but connect students in need with resources. It started as a state-funded pilot program for the 2020 school year and has grown since then.
“Some districts are as small as 400 students. Our average is 2,500 students. But our large districts like Jefferson county, Mobile, Montgomery, Huntsville, they need additional supports,” Mackey said.
Jefferson County’s Coordinator Jeffrey Moore says more staff would be a big help. The district has about 35,000 students across 58 schools.
Moore says many are struggling to bounce back from the pandemic.
“Primarily the anxiety, depression — we’ve seen kids who’ve already suffered from mental illnesses or have already been diagnosed, we see that a lot of those issues have come back,” Moore said.
The district has several social workers, case managers and behavioral specialists, but Moore says it could benefit from more mental health coordinators.
“This is very much needed, so having additional ones is a plus because it allows programs to be set up and every kid gets services,” Moore said.
In 2021 the CDC reported that more than a third of high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic.