CHURUBUSCO — Students at Smith-Green Community Schools will now have more access to mental health counseling.

The district previously contracted with a mental health counselor to provide services once a week, but the counselor’s schedule was often full and some students didn’t receive many sessions.

“I don’t remember a time that the person didn’t have a full schedule,” SGCS Superintendent Dan Hile said. “There were some students who weren’t seen for weeks because the need was so high.”

Often, elementary-age students did not have the opportunity to meet with the counselor.

The SGCS Board of Trustees recently approved a contract with counselor Jennie Thomas, who will be at the school four hours on Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings and Thursday afternoons to provide more opportunities for services at the school.

Sondra Cook, director of guidance at Churubusco High School, wrote a grant for $30,000 to provide the opportunity. At the end of the grant, the board will review the benefit of the increased services, and see if there is another way to fund the program.

“I’m excited to be able to add a lot more time for them,” Cook said.

The new contract also provides for small group sessions and parent information sessions.

The addition of a mental health counselor provides more in-depth counseling for students who may be struggling with mental health issues, such as trauma, anxiety and depression.

“As a school counselor, I don’t have the amount of training a licensed mental health counselor has to work with students who are exhibiting mental illness,” Cook said. “If a student is exhibiting something that seems to not be just a short situational occurrence, a LHMC would be more appropriate.”

School counselors differ from LMHC, who are trained more in-depth for emotional and social issues, and can also utilize different approaches, such as behavioral and Adlerian therapies since they have more time to work with patients.

Adlerian therapy is a brief, psychoeducational approach that is both humanistic and goal-oriented. It emphasizes the individual’s strivings for success, connectedness with others and contributions to society as being hallmarks of mental health.

Behavior therapy is focused on increasing the person’s engagement in positive or socially reinforcing activities.

The LHMC in the building will work with students on such issues.

Cook has seen students improve both behaviorally and with their grades since the implementation of a mental health counselor in the schools.

“Because we have noticed a decline in behavioral and academic problems with those who participate, we do hope it will help the overall atmosphere,” Cook said.

In a time when school safety is a high priority, Cook said the program may also improve safety by addressing students’ needs.

“We hope the outlet for their frustrations in life and emotions is through counseling sessions and not through expressing it through physical actions such as fighting,” Cook said.

The previous counselor saw about 12 students a day in 30-minute sessions and about 25 students total, as not all students were able to be seen each week.

With the new counselor coming 16 hours a week, there is the potential for many more students to receive services.

The appointments are free for students, providing opportunity for families who may not be able to afford counseling or availability to get their students to appointments.

“I have also noticed it helps families who aren’t quite sure about the benefits of mental health counseling,” Cook said. “This is an easy way to try it out and they feel a little safer that it’s someone who is right in the school.”

Also at the SGCS meeting:

• The board did not make any changes to its policy for the Teacher Appreciation Grant, which provides bonuses for teachers who are performing at the “effective” or “highly effective” level. Funding for the bonuses comes from the state in a lump sum every year, which is then distributed to the teachers.

• The school board set the transfer date to Feb. 1, meaning new students need to join the district prior to Feb. 1 each school year.

• The board raised the textbook fees by $23.50 to help cover the costs of cases for students’ Chromebooks at the elementary school. “As we move closer to the e-learning possibility, we need to be able to send Chromebooks home at the elementary level,” Hile said. “Before we’re comfortable with doing that, we wanted those elementary students to have cases in order to take them home safely.” The cases can be reused year after year unless they become worn or broken and need replaced. “We’re excited to be able to do this now, we’re so close to 1:1 technology in our district.”