School district sees increase in children receiving mental health services

By Kirstan Knowlton

BERLIN — Since the implementation of Project AWARE and the integration of mental health services into the school system, the number of students who regularly utilize these services have dramatically increased.

It’s been almost two years since Project AWARE, Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education, has been put into place, and program organizers Charlie Cotton, area director for Northern Human Service, and Bob Thompson of Project Aware are happy with the results so far.

“We are incredibly pleased with the outcome,” said Cotton.

In a recent presentation to the Berlin School Board, Cotton reported that students’ utilization of Northern Human Services has increased in all school except at Brown Elementary.

Based on the current enrollment numbers, 13.1 percent of students are receiving services through NHS, up from just 8.2 percent in September of 2015.

Cotton noted that the increase in numbers is seen as a good thing, because students are getting the services that they need.

“Eventually the numbers will go down,” said Cotton. “The long-term goal is to not have children in treatment.”

Cotton also shared an important statistic with the board, citing that between 10 to 20 percent of kids will experience a mental illness. He went on to say that treatment of kids is not the same as treating adults, and is far more involved in evidence-based supports.

Cotton explained that in the past, the number of students being seen for services had always decreased over the summer. This past summer however, Cotton said that they did not lose any children, and credits their consistency with Project AWARE.

“We are convinced that Project AWARE is working,” said Cotton.

Brown Elementary School has been working on using mindful practice techniques and skills to regulate emotions and impulses. They have also been working Infant Early Childhood Mental Health programs to service students before they enter school.

“I think it’s exciting that these kids are getting what they need,” said School Board Chair Nicole Plourde.

More information and video interviews with school staff can be found on www.nhstudentwellness.org/berlin.html, and the Project AWARE newsletter can be found on the school’s site by visiting www.sau3.org/files/1521951/projectawareapril.pdf.