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BENTONVILLE -- The School District has several ways to address the mental-health issues of its students, a group of three elementary assistant principals told the School Board at its meeting Monday.

Rachel Manus, Kim Foerster and Nick Lyons presented national statistics on student mental health, some of the barriers to treatment and what approaches the district uses with those students identified as needing help.


Two donations to the Bentonville School District were celebrated at Monday’s School Board meeting:

  • The Bentonville Booster Club presented a check for $50,000 toward completion of the stadium at West High School. That project, expected to be finished by August, will cost about $3.8 million.

  • Brian Jackson of Hight Jackson Associates, a Rogers architectural firm, presented a check for $20,000 for the district’s Ignite program.

Source: Staff report

Data from the National Alliance on Mental Health show one in five teen students nationally has been diagnosed with a mental illness and most youth don't receive treatment for their issues, the administrators said.

Nationally, the average delay between the onset of symptoms -- which often occurs during elementary school -- and intervention is eight to 10 years, said Manus, an assistant principal at Cooper Elementary School.

In the elementary schools, there is a "physical safety" factor associated with mentally ill students that affects not only themselves but other students and staff members, Manus said.

"These students also are anxious and they struggle to perform," she said. "And as a result it creates anxiety in their peers, as those peers also struggle to focus and struggle to perform."

Financial concerns and inadequate access to medical professionals are major barriers to treatment, said Foerster, an assistant principal at Osage Creek Elementary School. There also can be problems identifying children at risk, she said.

"Part of the problem lies in the fact that when children are very young, some of their symptoms of mental health manifest in behavior. So we spend a lot of time dealing with behavior, and often times not getting to that underlying issue of the mental health that might be impacting the behavior," Foerster said.

Lyons, an assistant principal at Baker Elementary School, said in Bentonville schools, the counselors are the "first line of defense" in combating mental-health issues. In more serious cases, schools turn to professionals from organizations such as Ozark Guidance and Dayspring Behavioral Health Services.

There's also a "mobile assessor" who can give recommendations to parents on the needs of a particular student. Therapeutic day treatment may be offered. The district also offers alternative learning environments for its elementary students, Lyons said.

Lyons, Foerster and Manus made Monday's presentation as part of the district's assistant principal leadership program.

Willie Cowgur, a board member, suggested the administrators take time over the next month or two to come up with a few ways the district can improve in its approach to student mental-health issues.

"It's a very serious issue and anything we can do to get out in front and help any kids with a disorder would be a great help to us," Cowgur said.

Rebecca Powers, a board member, said the district has come a long way on the topic since she joined the board in 2012, but it's something the district must continue to work on.

Powers added there's a lack of health providers in the region and suggested the district do more to encourage students to pursue a medical career.

Superintendent Debbie Jones said student behavioral problems is the biggest problem school districts face across the nation. While Bentonville still has room to improve, the district has come a long way, she said.

"It's a problem that takes attention," Jones said. "It takes personnel, it takes time. And it's a challenge for administrators and for teachers."

NW News on 02/20/2018

Print Headline: Students' mental health a concern for Bentonville school officials

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