Alachua County Public Schools Implementing Mental Health Curriculum

Attention, parents: Your kids might be less stressed out at school.

Alachua County Public Schools will be implementing a mental health curriculum plan starting Dec. 1 for public school students.

The Florida Board of Education voted on July 17 to provide for middle and high school students at least five hours of mental health education each year.

Each district in Florida is implementing a new plan, but Alachua County is getting ahead and trying out some of these programs in the elementary schools.

Current initiatives in Alachua County Public Schools include a system of care that customizes services for children and families in need, such as family counseling or job training.

Director of Communications and Community Initiatives Jackie Johnson said that the staff in the Alachua County Public Schools are reviewing several programs because they want to select a research-based program, one that has shown promise in other places.

One program, according to Johnson, “Start With Hello,” from Sandy Hook Promise began implementation in elementary schools Sept. 23. This program is meant to prevent mental health issues and social isolation in schools.

“We have had a lot of mental health programs and services in place in our schools for quite some time,” Johnson said. “This [implementation] will really allow us to formalize those programs and really make them consistent across the district, so kids… will be getting a message, and that’s certainly a good thing this day and age.”

Johnson also said that the high schools will be using a program on teenmentalhealth.org and that the middle schools will be using EverFi.

Other organizations Johnson said would be involved in implementation is the local branch for the National Association for Mental Illness and the UF PALS group, presenting the documentary “Not Alone.”

Johnson said the Hanley Foundation will also do presentations on substance abuse.

These programs are mainly volunteer based, but the state is also providing funding from taxpayer dollars through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

Charlotte Dwyer, 19, is a UF freshman in public relations that graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2019 and was present for the shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. Dwyer said she thinks this new curriculum is important for making a step toward awareness after the Sandy Hook and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedies.

“I personally think mental health, in all aspects, is something that is so important to emphasize in schooling,” Dwyer said. “With this new curriculum, students will find the ability to notice feelings within themselves that may be harmful and then they can seek help for those feelings.”