2017-07-12 / School News

Expanded school mental health services serve many more students

by Kate Evans

The number of students that have benefitted this year from increased Morgan County Schools mental health services has soared from previous years, according to a social work department presentation at the June 6 Morgan County School Board meeting. The state is looking to Morgan County as its model for school mental health services.

School mental health providers grew from one contracted part-time social worker in 2005 to nine social workers, including four social work interns, during the 2016-2017 school year.

An Expanded School Mental Health grant of $60,000 helped fund this year’s increased mental health services and provided two social workers-one at Berkeley Springs High School and one at Paw Paw Schools, said Morgan County Schools lead social worker Hannah Stewart.

The Expanded School Mental Health grant served a total of 103 Berkeley Springs High School students and 60 Paw Paw Schools students with counseling and crisis intervention.

Discipline referrals and disruptive and disrespectful conduct have significantly decreased at Berkeley Springs High School and Paw Paw Schools this year. The 2016 Pride Survey also showed that the percentages of county sixth-12th graders using alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana declined since the 2012 survey, she said.

History of services

Former lead social worker Gary McDaniel said he started seeing alternative education students for one hour a week in 2005, which became three, six and then 12 hours a week. He was hired as a fulltime social worker for the school system in 2008.

McDaniel provided outpatient psychotherapy in the schools since transportation was an issue for many students. In 2010 he was seeing 45 students a week and began small group work. McDaniel helped create the school FLEX environment so disruptive students could work on behavioral issues and academics and return to the classroom.

Starting Points got a social worker grant that provided family wraparound services in the schools in 2010. The Morgan County Partnership received a grant in 2013 for a fulltime Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) substance abuse social worker. The SBIRT grant was expanded in 2015 to provide depression and suicide prevention screening and a third fulltime social worker.

Multi-tiered support

Expanded school mental health is a multi-tiered system of support where schools, mental health providers and community partners work together to enhance the mental health of students and includes prevention, early intervention and treatment

Tier 1 prevention and classroom programs include the Morgan County Partnership’s Positive Action, Too Good For Drugs and Violence, Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) screenings and the Parent Child Academy, along with school suicide prevention presentations, bullying prevention clubs, the Sardine Club and other efforts.

Tier 2 small group intervention programs include the Diversity group and groups on grief, self-esteem, social skills, life skills, conflict resolution and stress and anger management and Teen Court.

Tier 3 intensive intervention includes suicide and risk of harm assessments, crisis intervention, school-based therapy, referral to treatment, SBIRT counseling and East Ridge Health Systems inschool therapy.

This year’s impact

The school system’s SBIRT Mental Health grant provided risk screenings to 874 students at the beginning of the school year and 279 students were served through individual counseling, services and weekly check-ins since November, 2016. The grant offered screening for depression, anxiety and trauma, Stewart said.

Through the Expanded School Mental Health grant, 43 Berkeley Springs High School students received counseling in individual sessions and small group settings, 60 students received crisis intervention and 72 hours were spent in crisis intervention. Six student suicide assessments were administered, said Expanded School Mental Health social worker Heather Klockmann. She also created a student-led Diversity Group.

Expanded School Mental Health social worker Jami Cross said that the grant also served 43 Paw Paw Schools students through individual counseling sessions and small group settings. Seventeen students received crisis intervention, seven hours were spent in crisis intervention and 126 individual counseling sessions were provided. Some seven suicide assessments were provided and 24 students were seen between her and the East Ridge counselor.

FLEX counselor Wendy Baracka provided crisis intervention, brief treatment, support groups at Warm Springs Intermediate School, Warm Springs Middle School and Berkeley Springs High School, risk assessments and SBIRT screenings and Nurtured Heart training.


Student mental health challenges included low self-esteem, lack of coping skills and lacked family or other support and continuum of care, Stewart said. Some feared parental repercussions while others felt a lack of anonymity. Social media is creating a lot of issues.

Families challenges included poverty, hunger, addiction, incarceration, homelessness, lack of transportation and literacy parent education. Classroom situations included students sleeping, inattentiveness, lack of motivation, bullying and altercations along with overwhelmed teachers, she said.

Despite the challenges, Stewart said students were hungry for nurturing, support and attention and were often misunderstood.

“Our job is to show every child that they’re loved,” Stewart said.

The future

Stewart said that there will be six social workers working in the school system next school year with four of them working under her direction. Stewart was hired as the new fulltime Morgan County Schools social worker after McDaniel resigned his position effective May 30.

Their partnership with East Ridge Health Systems will also continue as will the Morgan County Partnership SBIRT substance abuse grant. Stewart expected that their mental health services would stay around the same as this past year. They hope to serve as many kids as possible and are pursuing additional grants.

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