By: Claire Woodcock

May 16, 2018

The Estes Park School District is one of 10 districts in the state to be participating in a mental health pilot program. (Claire Woodcock / Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

Mental Health Colorado is piloting a new program that will assist the Estes Park School District in providing students access to emotional care. The nonprofit whose reach is statewide, has developed a new program, called the School Toolkit. It will serves as a guide to support schools and communities.

The guide includes help with implementing mental health screenings, suicide prevention, wellness plans that could include school counselors and more. By providing access to these resources to school districts statewide, Mental Health Colorado aspires to help faculty better identify warning signs of mental health disorders, substance abuse trends and bullying and other triggers that can lead students to suicidal tendencies.

“Colorado ranks 48th in the nation for child and adolescent mental health,” said Dr. Sarah Davidon, Research Director with Mental Health Colorado.”Suicide is the leading cause of death for Coloradans ages 10 to 24 in our state. That’s not very good. We need to do better.”

The nonprofit has been working on the School Toolkit for the past year. Now 10 school districts throughout the state who have expressed a need for assistance are trying it out. Estes Park School District is one of those districts.

“Whether it’s cutting, suicidal idealization tendencies and their own struggles with PTSD, we’re seeing an increase in our students struggling.” Estes Park School District Superintendent Sheldon Rosenkrance said. “We’ve started practices to really work as a district on communication and relationships and to try to battle the increased pressure that our kids are under.”

For starters, Mary Barron was brought on as the Estes Park School District’s Restorative Practices Coordinator for grades K-12 for this school year. In her role, she implements the restorative practices methodology adopted by the district and community.

“Restorative practices is really kind of a way that we look at how we discipline students,” she said. “But it’s not just about discipline, it’s really about the culture of our school, it’s about how we connect to kids.”

Barron said restorative practices are a philosophical way for the school community to look at how kids take accountability for the harm they’ve caused. About once a week teachers are encouraged to gather students and mediate discussions around hurtful events in an amiable way.

Within the last month, Estes Park School District has also hired High School Guidance Counselor Hannah Heckerson as the official Mental Health Clinician for the 2018-19 academic year.

“Having this mental health practitioner certainly we hope will strengthen services because they will have the time to devote to building those connections with students,” Barron said.

The combination of pairing elements of Mental Health Colorado’s School Toolkit with the community Restorative Justice program and adding a Mental Health Clinician that will provide additional aid on campus, the district and community of Estes Park appear to be taking steps in the right direction, adopting appropriate measures to help students in healthy and restorative ways.

Dr. Davidon with Mental Health Colorado said school settings are the perfect opportunity for adults to help identify the issues students face early on.

“Not that we’re asking teachers or staff to diagnose or treat, but really to be able to spot warning signs,” Dr. Davidon said.

Estes Park and the other nine school districts will try out the School Toolkit as Mental Health Colorado works to obtain funding to reach the additional 168 school districts in Colorado as well.

Artictle originally appeared in Estes Park Trail Gazette.