ELYRIA — The tragedy and trauma Elyria students suffer and live with daily does not disappear as soon as they hit the schoolhouse doors.
They bring it in with them, and in an effort to help students cope better school officials are working on a plan to increase counseling services for students who will return to school in September. The addition of social workers for elementary students and more guidance counselors for high school students is part of a growing trend to provide more wraparound services to students.
“There are a lot of things going on and a lot of families in crisis, dealing with things they haven’t had to deal with before,” said Ann Schloss, the district’s associate superintendent. “We educate the whole child and work with the whole family. Wraparound services are a big piece of that.”
Franklin Elementary School dealt with the sudden and traumatic loss of the building’s principal, Lisa Licht, last year. This year, the district will place two social workers in the building part-time to help lead group sessions with students, parents, teachers and staff. It will include grief counseling as well as other topics related to family trauma including how the opioid epidemic continues to impact families.
The group sessions will extend to other schools in the district as needed.
“We know there is a definite need because we started the work already at Franklin,” Schloss said. “Some of our students come to us with trauma. They have been through trauma in their lives and our staff and teachers need strategies to deal with that on a day-to-day basis in the classrooms. That’s us being reactive to their needs. We are also taking a more proactive stance. These individuals will work with students to help them make right choices, good choices and deal with things day to day.”
Schloss said the district is working to use federal funding to pay for the services as a new grant came out last year that allows the district to use money for mental health services. This will be in addition to contracted services the district will continue to use with agencies such as Applewood Centers and Bellefaire JCB.
“If we can get a social worker in every school, that is our ultimate goal, but funding is always a consideration,” said Denise Blatt, the district’s director of pupil services. “With the opioid epidemic and knowing what the kids are dealing with every day, we want to give kids more tools to cope.”
Teachers need support, too. Blatt said the turnover rate at Franklin is about three years. As such, getting and retaining teachers to work in the high-need area is important, she said.
Elyria also added two guidance counselors at the high school, bringing the number to seven.
One will deal with career and college readiness, four will handle 10th through 12th grade students and two will directly work with freshmen students.
“Between a licensed social worker and a school counselor, there are some avenues of therapy social workers can do and referrals they can hand,” Blatt said. “School counselors have so many other duties that it is almost impossible to have them take on all these additional roles. You almost need an academic counselor and one dedicated to emotional and social well-being.”
Elyria Superintendent Tom Jama said his years as the principal of Elyria High were eye-opening in showing the struggles students deal with daily. He said he had students he identified himself, and he wanted to speak with daily and weekly just to make sure they were OK.
The “Jama Board” was about addressing the mental health needs of students with informal face-to-face interactions.
Elyria is not alone in this pursuit to address matters outside the classroom.
The Educational Service Center of Lorain County is pushing to get more social workers in districts across the county. And a House bill backed by state Rep. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, also is making its way through legislative tracks. It would provide more funding for social workers in Ohio’s schools.