North Carolina Schools recognized for model mental health program

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    MADISON, North Carolina (WXII) — Sunday marked World Mental Health Day, and on Monday, Rockingham County Schools received a visit from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The state was recognizing Rockingham County Schools for having a model program for mental and behavioral health services for their students.

“This is for pre-school through 12th grade,” RCS Executive Director of behavioral health, crisis intervention, and student safety Dr. Stephanie Ellis said. “All across RCS, we’re implementing those behavioral health practices and emotional regulation practices to help our students.”

Superintendent Dr. Rodney Shotwell looked on as second graders at Huntsville Elementary were led through breathing exercises and made “calm down bottles.”

“We care a lot about their learning, but a child can’t learn if there are not some basic emotional needs that are not addressed,” Shotwell said. “I really think we’ve tried to find a safe venue for students that if they do have something going on they can go and talk about it.”

The activities aim to help students with self-regulation, and RCS leaders say they’ve heard from teachers and parents who believe the activities have helped students with the rest of their academic work.

“Being able to practice some of those wellness skills and practice those calm-down skills has really helped students with their emotional regulation, with being able to keep them in the classroom, being able to help them focus on their studies, being able to better share emotions with each other and their teacher,” Ellis said. “We ultimately find that they’re better able to connect with their teacher and academic information through those strategies.”

The goal of Monday’s visit from the state is to determine how more districts can follow Rockingham County’s lead on mental and behavioral health programs for students.

“There’s people out there to help,” Shotwell said. “We want our kids, whether they’re in kindergarten or getting stressed cause they don’t know if they’ll get into the college they want to get into in the 12th grade, we want them to know there is somebody here to be able to help them.”

It’s a program that Dr. Ellis said has been even more important during the pandemic.

“When we’re able to have good emotional regulation, when we’re able to have those skills and implement them throughout the day,” Ellis said. “Then we’re better able to learn. We can learn better, grow better, share better and connect better. All of that really does impact our students for the positive.”

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