Florida Keys Community | By Charlotte Twine | February 28, 2022

Daliana Goins, counseling and intervention services coordinator for the Monroe County School District, said at the Feb. 8 board meeting that staff members are noticing more students are dealing with mental health issues since the pandemic. She also pointed out that a strategy has been put in place to help this problem: more counselors in the schools. This extra staff is being paid for by federal emergency relief funds that the district received to address the impact that COVID-19 has had at elementary and secondary schools. 

Goins said her counseling staff told her that they were seeing more anxiety, isolation and depression among all ages of students.

“We’re seeing more of these three behaviors in the schools,” she told Keys Weekly. “Those have increased post-COVID, and we need more supports.”

She said Superintendent Theresa Axford wanted to see more “face time” between the counselors and the students in light of this new issue, so the district hired 10 counseling assistants, one for each school.

“We’re trying to get counselors at the high-school level more visible, to not get trapped inside an office and only working one-on-one with a few students rather than getting in the classrooms,” Goins said. “Visibility, access and growth — it’s a three-pronged focus to maximize the number of students serviced by student counselors.”

Though more anxiety, isolation and depression are seen at all ages, the older students are experiencing a delay in social development.

“We’re finding that the students acted behaviorally at a lower grade level,” she said. For example, a 9th grader would have 7th or 8th grade behaviors. So counselors are invited in as guests in classes to do presentations on these behaviors for the students.

At the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten levels, counselors speak with students about how to interact with others both as friends and as classmates in a classroom setting.

“There’s manners, even physical space — how to not be on top of each other or sit close at appropriate times,” Goins noted about the presentations to young students. “All of that changed during COVID. This year, it’s been a learning adventure. All those things we used to take for granted.” 

The district has also created social worker positions to support student well-being. All of these new positions have been funded by stimulus payments that came from the U.S. Department of Education. Called ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Relief) Funds, these payments were to address student learning gaps and social issues stemming from the pandemic

In 2021, the district received a $5.8 million payment from the ESSER Funds, which staff used to pay for, among other things, a beefed-up summer school session, counseling assistants and social workers.

Goins is happy that the counseling assistants have been hired to help with the counselors workload.

“I am so proud of them,” she said about her staff. “The needs are so great, more than before. They’re working so hard and trying to be solution-focused. We want to use our time the best we can to meet the majority of students’ needs. Nights and weekends, it’s nonstop. They don’t punch out of their clock when the bell rings. Some are pretty heavy, special issues. I commend each and every one of them for the work they are doing with families. School counselors also work to support the staff — that being another element to help everybody be the best they can be during these times.”

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