More than 20,000 Palm Beach County students received mental health services last school year

Dwyer High School psychologist Adrienne Avallone works to promote resiliency, self esteem among students

WPTV | By Stephanie Susskind | November 13, 2023

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — New numbers show just how many kids are in need of mental health support in Palm Beach County schools.

Records reveal more than 20,000 students received services last school year.

School psychologists said it’s not only a sign of the times, but a sign that students are getting the help they need.

One of the most important doors at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens is that of school psychologist Adrienne Avallone, who’s in her office ready to talk to students about whatever they need.

A group of spirit club students on Monday worked on posters for the next Dwyer High School sporting event. The club makes sure no student goes to a game alone.

“School is very stressful,” Avallone said. “There’s a lot going on in high school. So anything you can do to promote resiliency, that social impact and power of connection, is just really important.

Avallone is all about that power of connection in her nearly 30-year career at Palm Beach County schools.

“It’s really about identifying strategies and tools and how to really make sure their self esteem improves, and that they start feeling that connection,” Avallone said.

Avallone has watched her field grow over time with full mental health teams now on school campuses.

The School District of Palm Beach County is serving tens of thousands of students with counseling sessions and more.

“I think mental health has always been an issue. But I think we’re able to help support them now, and that’s what’s really important. Not so much that it’s a crisis, but that we are actually able to have trained professionals on campus that can provide support. And that’s what makes me very happy,” Avallone said.

“Whenever I had an issue or something that I needed to talk about, I would come here and it would be a safe space to go to,” student Hannah Shakerdge said.

The students Avallone sees told WPTV they find peace in her office and comfort in knowing she’s there.

“If we see someone by themselves, or we see someone going through things, she’s one of the number one people we know we can count on to talk to them to make sure they are OK, to do wellness checks and things like that,” student Addison Greek said.

It’s part of what earned Avallone the prestigious Florida School Psychologist of the Year award just weeks ago.

“Ms. Avallone is truly one of Dwyer’s difference makers,” principal Corey Brooks said.

Brooks said student well-being is a big focus on his campus.

“Kids often don’t get to show how smart they are because they are not in a good place. So here at Dwyer, we focus on the whole child,” Brooks said.

Avallone’s main message to her students is to find glitter in every day, no matter how challenging.

“If you get glitter on you, what happens? It stays on you. It’s easy to spread. So find little moments of glitter. Find your happiness. And if you can do that every day, it will spread even more,” Avallone said.

Numbers from the School District of Palm Beach County show that last school year, Palm Beach County schools transported 113 students for involuntary mental health evaluations at the hospital. Those students were brought to HCA Florida JFK North Hospital.

Statistics also show the most common reason students were at risk for suicide was because of family complications, followed by depression and low self esteem.

For more information about mental health services in Palm Beach County public schools, click here.

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