Roaring Fork School District reports on mental health counseling progress

Staff work inside the health center located at the new Mountain Family Health School at Glenwood Springs High School.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The Glenwood Springs City Council invested $260,000 from the city’s tobacco tax funds to help fund a mental health provider for the public schools that are part of the Roaring Fork School District.

“It’s so direct, it’s really making a huge impact in terms of reducing stigma and increasing access to mental health,” said Anna Cole, the school district’s head of student and family services. “We would love to continue working with the council on this.”

Cole presented the work the district has done in partnership with the Hope Fund to the city council during the January 19 city council meeting. He requested that the city continue to allocate money from the tobacco tax fund.

“We know that this work is really powerful and influential,” Cole said. “We’re not quite sure how to put together the funding.”

He said, because the tobacco tax fund is designed to decrease over time, the district will not always have the ability to request funds from that source.

Cole oversees integrated health services in the district, such as school nurses, school health centers, Mountain Family Health Center clinics and other coordinated mental health efforts, she said.

She also does grant work, oversees the Early Childhood Family Resource Centers and a variety of student and family support departments.

The partnership represents Roaring Fork Schools, as well as Two Rivers Community School and Yampa Mountain High School which are Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) schools, she said.

“When I look at the numbers, I dare say that school-based mental health is the largest mental health provider in the Valley,” Cole said.

They serve over 3,000 students, including social emotional screening, intake, counseling and lots of school-based mental health that is family centered.

“They bring the whole family together to do things,” she said. “So I think we feel like this is a really important tool and just want to make sure you can see the impact of that funding.”

Mountain Family Health Centers new location at Glenwood High School.
Rich Allen / Post Independent

Although the council didn’t have any statistics to look at because the mental health effort is still fairly new, Cole said they are currently awaiting some trend data from the Healthy Kids Colorado initiative.

“I think there’s always an interesting pendulum with mental health,” she said, referring to helping kids get mental health help, but not pushing it too much that they’re over-diagnosed. Huh.

Both Cole and Council Member Ingrid Vuso expressed concern for students and young people trying to self-diagnose, especially with certain social media trends. He said the district is “stretching” the education for a more universal education to normalize some of the feelings students might be thinking it’s a more serious diagnosis.

“At 14, they have very strong feelings, it’s normal,” Cole said. “It’s their superpower, and let’s help them normalize and understand that, yeah, you have some tough classes, you work on the weekends, you’re going to be stressed.”

The district is also working on training with partners at the ASHA Center to help ensure they are not overdiagnosing.

“We have some training that we are working on right now with partners at the Hope Center to help our teachers build better skills to help normalize some of the cases and also better understand that What can we normalize and affirm and move on, yeah, it’s really sad and it’s really normal,” Cole said.

She also said that they are putting more conflict management classes in the elementary school. Cole said the district is currently rolling out a new recommendation to adopt the comprehensive health education curriculum in line with the updated Colorado State Standards for Health, which were redrafted in 2020.

The Colorado State Standards added social emotional mental health and relationship education, which they called fantastic. The district also has something they use in kindergarten through sixth grade and called second step in preschool.

“Everything from anger management, to friendship, to boundary setting, to really raising kids’ social emotional awareness,” Cole said. “So that’s really our foundational curriculum that we’re trying to build on.”

Post independent reporter Cassandra Ballard can be contacted here [email protected] or 970-384-9131.

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