Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

November 30, 2012

Mental health counseling explored by BCSC

Debbie Blank
The Herald-Tribune

— In order to truly learn, students must be well.

The Batesville Community School Corp. Coordinated School Health Program Council is on a quest to not just improve their physical health, but mental health as well.

About 15 members listened Nov. 27 as Pam Gutzwiller, Laurel Elementary School’s guidance counselor for grades K-8, described a school-based mental health counseling program overseen by the Community Mental Health Center, Lawrenceburg.

She reported, “For me, having CMHC coming to the school is huge, particularly because of the high poverty rate.” About 60-70 percent of students there receive free or reduced-price lunches.

She pointed out some parents are not consistent in following through with appointments at a CMHC site. They may not be able to afford the half-an-hour drive to Connersville, Greensburg, Brookville or Batesville.

Over the 13 years CMHC has been involved at the school, there have been seven counselors.

Gutzwiller explained that sometimes a familiar teacher or she will suggest counseling to the parent, noting it’s “safer and easier” to try it at school rather than a CMHC office.

In addition, having counseling at school cuts down on absenteeism because students don’t have to leave the campus to receive help.

Parents come to school for the intake meeting to gain information and sign forms.

This year nine students receive weekly CMHC counseling, “which is wonderful, for counseling to be effective.” Sessions last 30-45 minutes. “A few times a counselor will do a group session.”

Counselors “often go to the home and work with the parent … they’ll get more support in if needed. I bet five out of my nine” have other counselors, according to Gutzwiller.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a parent say … ‘I want to stop this. I don’t like it.’”

Some CMHC employees with certain licensures can only see kids who qualify for Hoosier Healthwise aid. Others can also see insured students.

Gutzwiller and the CMHC worker meet each week and e-mail constantly to discuss problems clients are having.

Member Dr. David  Welsh asked, “What happens over summer break?” Gutzwiller admitted, “It’s not as good in the summer.” While counselors try to meet students at the Laurel public library, sometimes they simply don’t show up.

BCSC superintendent Dr. Jim Roberts confirmed that the Franklin County Community School Corp. does not pay for CMHC services at LES. Gutzwiller noted, “It’s so beneficial for us.”

Thomas Barnett, guidance counselor at Batesville Primary School and Batesville Intermediate School, said CMHC clients in Batesville must wait six weeks for appointments.

Nine at BIS are being seen by a counselor at a CMHC office, but Barnett can’t communicate with the employee because parents haven’t signed permission forms.

Barnett said he’s convinced there are enough students in need to merit a CMHC counselor at BCSC. Roberts said the next step is for Barnett to have more conversations with an official there.

Turning to another health topic, obesity, Welsh said BCSC “is way ahead of the curve compared to folks across the country. I was very proud to say what’s going on here” to other physicians.

BCSC health services director Gayla Vonderheide, who co-chairs the council with Batesville High School teacher Megan Spreckelson, said educators in other school districts have asked for the body mass index letter physical education teachers have sent to parents to use as a model.

Almost half of second-grade teacher Vicki Heil’s students have signed up to grab lunches  from the new BPS salad bar.

“I think the cafeterias have come a long way,” Vonderheide maintained. The superintendent reported, “The cafeteria  managers have been very  receptive to ideas and anxious themselves to try things.” Spreckelson  meets with them regularly to update managers about new federal nutrition  requirements.

Heil monitors the cafeteria on Mondays. “Nutrition is so bad” in some packed lunches, she told the group. One student had white bread smeared with what Heil thought was mayonnaise, but the sandwich actually was filled with marshmallow fluff. “She honestly thought that was healthy.”

Whole apples are packed, but students just gnaw little holes in them “because they’re all missing teeth.” The teacher brings a personal apple slicer and scissors to cut open yogurt packets to help them out. “The amount of food that gets pitched … those parents never know.”

One boy has a lunch box with spaces for designated food groups.  “I’ve had more kids say, ‘I wish my lunch looked like yours.’”

Heil chats about the school garden and how her family has made a goal to eat more healthy foods. “It’s amazing how many kids in my classroom shifted from Oreos and Chips Ahoy to apples and bananas.” She received some e-mails from parents thanking her for repeating what they’ve told kids at home.

Roberts suggested placing healthy lunch suggestions for families that pack in upcoming school newsletters.