Trauma: Education needs mental health investment

“If we do not fix this, we will lose public education.”

That was strong language from Wood County Schools Superintendent Will Hosaflook Tuesday, but he had good reason for using it. There is a desperate need in our local schools to address the damage being done to too many of our children’s mental health.

“This week, the counselors and I have dealt with drugs and alcohol, physical abuse, homelessness, threats or self-injurious behaviors …, parents incarcerated and domestic violence. And it’s only Tuesday,” Fairplains Elementary School Principal Liz Conrad told the board of education.

In fact, according to the results of a survey given to all second- through fifth-grade students in Wood County, nearly half had witnessed a person being arrested or using drugs, and more than three-quarters of the students had witnessed acts of violence.

“We’re having emotionally wounded children come to school and we’re trying to teach them, and we need help,” said Jefferson and Fairplains elementary schools counselor Aaron Eli.

Wood County Schools has one counselor for every 470 students. One proposed to solution to the problem is to add counselors.

Hosaflook took a different approach.

“I think it’s more than helping kids,” he said. “I think it’s helping families.”

He said he would prefer to invest in a mental health program in the elementary schools, though he acknowledged he does not yet know what that might be. He further pledged to work with counselors to find the right solution, and said “Believe me, I will find the funding.”

Funding will mean nothing if the proper steps are not taken to help these kids. Board members, teachers, counselors, administrators, parents and guardians and outside mental health professionals will have to work together –and listen to each other with the best interests of those kids in mind, rather than any personal or professional agendas.

As Hosaflook seems to understand, there is too much at stake.