NASD Explores Ways to Address Mental Health Issues – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper

NATCHEZ — Officials have turned their attention to mental health needs in schools following the recent deaths of teachers and students in the Natchez Adams School District family.

The Natchez Adams School District is considering a partnership with the Bruce Professional Counseling Service to address these needs of teachers, students and their families. Bruce Counseling unveiled their plans during a school board meeting on Wednesday.

The need for such a service became apparent when a student who was “very popular” with his classmates died in a tragic incident in December, school officials said.

Details of the incident were not released by officials out of respect for the family’s privacy.

While the district was still mourning the death of this student, a former Natchez student, Trevon Washington, was killed in a club shooting in Alexandria, Louisiana last month. He was 17 years old, authorities said.

Additionally, Natchez Early College teacher Peter Ensminger, affectionately known as “Mr. E,” died in February and two elementary school teachers, Tanya Jenkins Jeannice and Lillian Fort, died of unrelated illnesses last week.

The district has school counselors and social workers, but no one licensed to diagnose and treat mental illness when medication or inpatient treatment is required.

Feelings of depression, loneliness and other mental health issues have always been a concern, but those issues have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials said.

“I think the direction that Bruce Counseling is taking would be an enrichment for our students because when it comes to the social and emotional well being of our students there is a question mark at this time as to how to deal with that and more importantly what they do need,” said Superintendent Fred Butcher. “If we don’t offer anything, it’s a disservice. That is a beginning.”

Bruce Professional Counseling located at 114 Jeff Davis Blvd. in Natchez, offered to come to schools and offer one-on-one sessions during the day to address mental health issues. Bruce Counseling accepts Medicaid insurance to pay for the service and discussed other options for funding treatment for those whose insurance does not cover it.

Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald-Green said community members also wanted to come into schools and speak to students and asked permission from the board to allow this. With the approval of the board, this group came to speak with 11th graders at Natchez High School Friday “because they have been significantly impacted this school year by tragedy within our community and some outside of our community,” Green said.

“We can all say that’s what’s going on and that’s the concerns, but we think it’s very important that we give students the opportunity to voice their concerns and have their say in what we’re doing to change what is happening in our community,” she said.

The board also heard a presentation Wednesday about a “talent scouting” program that could be offered through a partnership between the school district and Alcorn State University.

This state-funded program would train students in financial literacy and take them to college campuses for a two-week residency to introduce them to college life.

It is designed to help students from low-income families identified by school counselors who might not otherwise consider going to college, officials said.

The school board is expected to consider adopting a letter of intent for each of these programs at its next regular meeting.

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