Ferguson-Florissant schools center mental health in pandemic learning loss bounce back
As schools search for ways to help students recover from the negative effects of the pandemic on learning, a St. Louis-area district is trying something new.
The Ferguson-Florissant School District announced Thursday it is launching an initiative to provide both tutoring and mental health services to students online.
“We've made it a norm that when you need help, ask for help,” said Superintendent Joseph Davis. “Don't try to handle those things on your own. Too often that turns into aggression. And then that causes other issues.”
The district will provide 24/7 access to online tutoring through a partnership with Varsity Tutors. The St. Louis-based business will also coordinate with teachers who will be able to tailor recommendations for students.
District leaders felt it was important to include mental health services alongside the new academic resource.
“When you show up in a classroom, maybe you know you're struggling with math, but your mind is on something that happened at home,” Davis said. “And so having a venue to be able to process that, talk about it with someone, you can trust that it won't go anywhere, and give you some tools to work on if you're feeling aggression or depression.”
Mental health services will be added to an existing partnership with Hazel Health, which already provides medical care at home and in school buildings. School counselors or social workers will refer students for virtual therapy appointments.
“Research shows that if kids are going through something, their short-term memory goes down, their long-term memory goes down, and it just makes learning harder altogether,” said Laurie Zaleuke, principal of Halls Ferry Intermediate School. “We're focused on the whole child. You know, if academics and learning, if that's the only thing we're focused on, we're not setting them up to be the best person they can be.”
Both programs will be paid for with federal funding from COVID relief legislation. The district says the partnership with Varsity Tutors will cost $179,000 and the Hazel Health services will cost $144,000.
Davis said the idea to provide additional mental health support came from conversations with students.
“We’ve taken a real deep dive around mental health, especially in the Black community,” Davis said. “Too often, students from communities like mine think that mental health isn't something that we should do, and it's so important for our students to get that kind of support.”