Horry County Schools working to make schools safer by adding more mental health counselors

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County Schools is working to make schools safer and reduce disruptions in class. The district will take on eight new mental health counselors for the upcoming 2018-19 academic year. Right now, Horry County Schools have 69 mental health counselors on staff and also contracts with Waccamaw Mental Health.

Horry County School District 1 board member, Holly Heniford, said this is in response to the growth. The district opened five new schools in the 2017-18 school year. With more students, school board members say additional counselors are needed to be able to provide full-coverage throughout the schools. Heniford said adding eight lead counselors would mean each building should have at least one on staff.  She said it's a great thing the Horry County Schools can provide this, because many other school districts aren't able to.

“There may be life traumas. Life happens, okay -  children are not born with emotional skills. So, you may have a trauma at home and the parents are doing the best they can to manage the trauma with the child. But when the child comes into school… you may find that the child disrupts class. Not only disrupts the child’s studies, but the classes studies. So, we can make an evaluation if there’s a death, divorce, loss of a job, you know health issues, you know tragedy that will hit a family… that we can step in and give that child life skills to be able to adapt -  to be able to manage those emotions and things like that,” said Heniford.

Back in February, the Parkland, Florida school shooting tragedy sparked discussion on school safety nationwide, including our own area. Heniford said the district planned to add counselors before the tragedy in Florida even happened. She said the district takes the mental health of its students very seriously, noting the services schools have will improve mental health for the student, including life skills.

The district's 2018-19 budget includes $583,000 for the eight Rehabilitative Behavioral Health Services (RBHS) counselors. The counselors are available to guide students through any issue they have that could affect their performance in school, like disruptive behavior and tardiness.

Heniford said the addition of counselors to the school system will not only provide more coverage with the growing number of students but will also provide more convenient services for the teachers.

“I would hope that the community as well as the school districts as well and the employees would embrace this - Because it also gives the teachers a level of comfort to know that they have somebody that has their back and has a higher skill level, not that they’re not trained -  but a higher skill level for more students that need more attention than others,” said Heniford.

She also said this is just a starting point and the district will continue to evaluate the benefits of adding counselors, while noting if there's a need for more counselors, more will be added.

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