NASD explores ways to tackle mental health concerns

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 12, 2022

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NATCHEZ — After the recent deaths of teachers and students within the Natchez Adams School District family, officials have turned their attention to mental health needs in schools.

The Natchez Adams School District is considering a partnership with Bruce Professional Counseling Service to take care of those needs for teachers and students as well as their families. Bruce Counseling presented their plans during a school board meeting Wednesday.

The need for such a service was evident when a student who was “very popular” among his peers died of a tragic incident in December, school officials said.

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Details about the incident were not released by officials out of respect for the family’s privacy.

As the district was still grieving this student’s death, a former Natchez student Trevon Washington was killed during a club shooting in Alexandria, Louisiana, last month. He was 17 years old, authorities said.

Additionally, Natchez Early College teacher Peter Ensminger, who was affectionately called “Mr. E,” died in February and two elementary teachers Tanya Jenkins Jeannice and Lillian Fort, died of unrelated illnesses last week.

The district has school counselors and social workers, but no one who is licensed to diagnose and treat mental illness when medication or in-patient treatment is needed.

Feelings of depression, loneliness and other mental health concerns have always been an issue but these issues have heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials said.

“I think that the direction that Bruce Counseling is going in would be an asset to our students because right now when it comes to the social and emotional well-being of our students there is a question mark there as far as how to deal with it and, most of all, what they need,” Superintendent Fred Butcher said. “If we offer nothing, it’s a disservice. This is a start.”

Bruce Professional Counseling, which is located at 114 Jeff Davis Blvd. in Natchez, offered to come into schools and provide individual sessions during the day to help solve mental health concerns. Bruce Counseling accepts Medicaid insurance to pay for the service and discussed other ways of funding treatment for those whose insurance does not cover it.

Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald-Green said community members were also seeking to come into schools and talk to students and asked the board’s permission to let them do so. With board approval, this group came to talk to 11th-grade students at Natchez High School Friday, “because they had been significantly impacted this school year by tragedies inside our community and some outside our community,” Green said.

“We can all say, this is what is going on and these are the concerns, but we think it’s very important that we give students an opportunity to voice their concerns and give their input to what we can do to change what is happening in our community,” she said.

The board also heard a presentation Wednesday about a “Talent Search” program that could be offered through a partnership between the school district and Alcorn State University.

This state-funded program would train students in financial literacy and bring them to visit college campuses for a two-week stay, introducing them to college life.

It’s designed to help students from low-income families, identified by school guidance counselors, who might not otherwise consider going to college, officials said.

The school board is expected to consider adopting a Memorandum of Understanding for each of these programs at their next regular meeting.