Jefferson Local Schools: Making mental health a priority

(Posted April 12, 2023)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

Jefferson Local Schools, according to Superintendent William Mullett, takes the mental health of its students seriously at all levels.

At Norwood elementary, that policy includes a licensed social worker.

At the April 11 school board meeting, school social worker Jessica Thompson reported that she worked with Ohio State University (OSU) for over a year to get a full-time intern at Norwood.

Joe Ortiz is a social work intern from OSU assisting Norwood Elementary students with learning coping skills to help them navigate the school day and life in general.

Students are also provided with brief therapy sessions when needed, risk assessments, mental health learning sessions, and community outreach.

“I have a passion for providing students with mental health resources,” said Ortiz, who is from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and will receive his master’s degree in social work next month from OSU. He plans to work with Nationwide Children’s Hospital as a behavioral health specialist after graduation.

Ortiz reported at least one in five youths aged 9 to 17 has a diagnosed mental health disorder that causes some degree of impairment.

“Negative influences in mental health amongst youth was not something new to the pandemic,” continued Ortiz during his presentation. “Not every student in Ohio is receiving the proper care and help for their mental health issues.”

Mental health resources at Norwood include suicide risk assessments. Ortiz said several students were assessed within the last six months. Crisis intervention was also conducted.

The elementary school’s mental health team conducted more than 100 individual sessions with students. They also taught coping skill lessons, including social-emotional regulation, lifelong skills, and ways to reduce stress, anxiety, and frustration.

In first-grade classrooms, weekly lessons were conducted.

“Part of my graduate requirement was to implement intervention practices,” said Ortiz, who created a 25-question student survey and collected pre- and post-measurement data.

His results indicated a 16 percent increase in self-management and emotional regulation after just six lessons.

Community and school outreach endeavors included: a health fair and clothing closet event attended by more than 500 students and parents; a week dedicated to promoting kindness; a mentoring program with high school students; and a Say Something week promoting school safety and trust.

“This was a life-changing experience for me,” Ortiz said. “You have a lot of good things going on here and a principal that advocates for mental health. “Norwood is a special place with an extremely supportive and mental health positive staff.”

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