Teachers and schools always keep bandages on hand for students' bumps and bruises.
But some wounds can't be covered with bandages.
Many problems students experience happen outside school walls, according to Beaufort County School District student services chief Gregory McCord, and they can seriously hinder what takes place inside them.
The district is trying to better understand how mental health affects students, McCord said, and, more importantly, what it can do to help them. He said a key factor is providing the support and services students may need in school, at home and in the community.
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That's why the district recently partnered with Wright Directions Family Services, a mental-health services group based in Jasper County. The program is aimed at preventing students from falling behind if, for instance, their parents are going through a divorce or the family has recently lost a loved one.
McCord said the district has been searching for this kind of partnership for several years, and has finally found the right fit.
The partnership began in mid-October, program manager Jawanda McNair said. The company, established in 2011, has an office in Ridgeland and hopes to add one in Beaufort County by spring, she said.
The district has many resources available to students, McCord said, including school social workers, guidance counselors and behavior-management specialists. Nonetheless, McCord said, only so much can be done at school.
"There are limits to what the school can offer -- they can't account for variables at home, like whether the student ate, whether they had love and respect, whether they have a roof over their head," McNair said. "So our goal is to be an extension of those hands and arms already in the school to help with the issues that pop up in that setting."
HOW IT WORKS
If school staff or a faculty member feels a student needs additional support, the school social worker will refer the family to Wright Directions, McCord said.
"We are really, really excited to have this program put in place in this district," Lady's Island Middle School social worker Kathy Bingham said.
After a student is referred to Wright Directions, it contacts the family to schedule a meeting. After an initial screening, the organization determines services and support the student and family need.
Those services usually last an average of three to six months, McNair said.
The referral and screening cost the district or family nothing, McCord said. If additional services are needed, Wright Directions works with the family's health care provider to discuss coverage and arrange payments.
McNair said there are many concerns -- such as violence in schools, bullying, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, dropping or failing out -- that officials hope to prevent.
Such partnerships and school-based mental-health services have become more prevalent in recent years, according to Louise Johnson, the S.C. Department of Mental Health's director of child and family services.
"I think the violence and other things that have been occurring across the country have really contributed to people realizing they need to reach out," Johnson said. "The need is so great, so the more of these types of partnerships we can have, the better it will be."
Johnson and Jill Cook, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association, said intervening with students early is critical to getting them the support they need.
Schools offer an opportunity to reach children in need, Cook said. Such partnerships also allow students to grow in all aspects -- academically, emotionally and socially -- she said.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.