Seminole county students pushing for more mental health programs in schools

A youth-coalition will present a resolution about mental health initiatives to the Seminole County School Board during a board meeting Tuesday night.

“The purpose of this resolution is to close the gap between the mental health services that students need and what’s currently being provided,” said Seminole County High School senior Malavika Kannan. She is a member of the coalition, which is made up of students, community activists and representatives of March for our Lives Orlando.

Kannan said, “Until recently, we haven’t had the vocabulary or the platform to really speak up about it. But I think students are now coming into their own as activists, as leaders, [and] as future policy makers.”

Kannan said the group wants board members to call upon state legislatures to increase funding for mental health programs in school. They also want the school board to meet once a year with a demographically, diverse group of students to discuss the mental health framework.

“We also want educators and administrators to realize that students are important stakeholders in the educational process,” Kannan said, “and it’s important to make sure their voices are heard when making these kinds of decisions.”

Kannan said the group is also pushing to have students and staff attend one hour of mandatory mental health first aid training to increase the conversations around mental health and reduce the stigmatism surrounding it.

“While I believe the awareness and framework for mental health is there,” Kannan said, “There honestly just isn’t enough conversation and awareness among students. Students aren’t aware of what needs to be done and could be done.”

“I’m very proud that our students are taking ownership in our schools,” said Seminole County School Board Chair Dr. Tina Calderone.

Dr. Calderone said administrators have been visiting schools around Seminole County, conducting listening tours with students. The questions for the student forum this year focused on school safety.

Dr. Calderone said while an overwhelming number of students said they felt safe, “We’re very hopeful that some wonderful solutions will come from our students, from our community members so we can make sure that everybody on our school campuses can feel safe.”

Dr. Calderone said the school district is focused on becoming more proactive rather than reactive when dealing with mental health.

“Not only do we have an armed sheriff or police officer in every single one of our schools and more controlled entry points,” she said, “but we know… we need to be there for the mental health and well-being of all of our students and team members.”

Dr. Calderone said Seminole County added several additional licensed mental health counselors in schools this school year. SCPS is also preparing to host a school safety and mental health summit at Lyman High School from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28. A panel made up of school personnel, local law enforcement, and community partners and stakeholders will discuss mental health resources available in schools.

Non-profit organization The Foundation of Seminole County Public Schools is also hosting a text-to-give fundraiser for people interested in donating money to help with school safety and mental health initiatives in Seminole County Schools. Text SCPS to 243-725 through March 6 to donate.