EDWARDSVILLE - Edwardsville Community Unit School District 7 (ECUSD7) has hired several additional counselors and social workers to provide mental health support at every grade level.

“We are really putting a strong priority on ensuring that our students and staff have their needs met,” Kristy Mitchell, a social worker counselor for the district, said. “We really prioritize student voice, staff voice and family and community voice. So we try to get consistent communication out to the community as often as possible to share what supports are in place for our students.”

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Mitchell was recently named the Multi-Tiered System of Support Coordinator and has played a big role in this mental health initiative, according to Superintendent Dr. Patrick Shelton. He added that mental health and substance use are major concerns for high school and middle school students, and he is thankful for the district’s support in combating these issues.

“Mental health is huge. I’m very proud of our board for taking that stance and putting that support in place for kids,” Shelton said. “Our goal is to add even more [mental health staff] for next year.”

In addition to the new staff, the district has reassessed its partnership with Chestnut Health Systems, a local organization that provides different mental health services. There will be increased efforts to educate students about mental health and substance use, and increased levels of support will be available for students through Chestnut.

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Mitchell explained that ECUSD7 uses data and surveys to identify what struggles students are facing. They found that many students weren’t receiving support because of increased stress on mental healthcare providers following the COVID-19 Pandemic. The district would try to connect students with providers, and the students would be put on a waitlist as providers tried to catch up with the demand for services.

“We were making referrals and supporting students by getting them that information, but what we found was they were just waiting on a waiting list, unfortunately, because the level of need is so high,” Mitchell said.

To combat this, ECUSD7 has started bringing providers onto campus so they can meet with students at school. This limits the barriers to care that many students face.

As the school year starts, Mitchell wants to focus on increasing students’ feelings of belonging, which has been shown to improve mental health. She encourages students and parents to reach out if they need additional support.

“We have a lot of opportunities for students to engage with one another and really, really feel like they belong and that they’re part of the D7 family,” she said. “We encourage the parents and families to join us and just really build that sense of community, because we know how powerful it is to have a sense of belonging, specifically to increase positive mental health.”

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