Park City School District grows student wellness initiative

The Park City School District amped up its resources for student wellness in the last year, and it is finding one statement to stand true.

“If you build it, they will come,” said Alison Vallejo, intervention and prevention counselor for the district. “We widen our roads and suddenly we have more traffic.”

Vallejo, whose position is new this year, said awareness within the community is increasing about mental health issues, but it is part of a nationwide movement. And with the amount of emphasis Park City has placed on student wellness, more students and parents are coming forward to ask for help.

Eight students that require one-on-one assistance moved into the district this school year. The district had to hire several aides to meet those needs, said Benjamin Belnap, associate superintendent of student wellness for the district.

“That is evidence that things are working. When there becomes increased awareness on any issue, there also becomes an increase in the problem. It’s not a bad thing.” Benjamin Belnap,Park City School District

To meet needs for all students, the district also hired social workers for the elementary schools and another counselor for Park City High School, he said.

The students using the district’s resources are not all new to the district, though, Belnap said. Many students are only now being identified because of the increased emphasis on early intervention.

“That is evidence that things are working,” he said. “When there becomes increased awareness on any issue, there also becomes an increase in the problem. It’s not a bad thing. With autism spectrum disorder, for example, it’s not that there are more kids on the autism spectrum, it’s that we are more aware and able to find those (students).”

Belnap was hired this year and given the task of organizing the numerous resources and counseling staff within the district into a cohesive unit so that the district can help as many students as possible.

Since the school district has grown in the last decade or so, the student wellness program required a system overhaul. In the past, Belnap said, it was common to add jobs and seek professionals from beyond Park City when there was a problem.

“The answer to problems has been to throw people at the problem,” he said. “We’re going to make this new hire, and they are great and work well with the problem, but they don’t have the structure around them. I feel like we are not as efficient with the resources that we currently have.”

Belnap instead wants to work systematically so that, although there would still be specialists trained in behavior management or college counseling , for example, every counselor or teacher knows how to react when a student comes to them for help.

The change is going to take time, Belnap said. He is currently working with Julie Hastings, curriculum specialist for the district, to create a multi-tiered system of support among counselors that includes a team of experts at each school.

“Now, when the school has a behavior problem, it’s, ‘Let’s contact the behavior specialist,’” he said. “That is not sustainable. That is a quick fix and is person-dependent. What we want to do is create a team at each school of five people and they are that student support team within the school.”

Teachers with concerns can approach the team. Instead of “putting out fires,” there will be a system in place so that all students can be identified and helped.

“Our goal is to make everybody well,” he said. “Not just the ones who are doing really well better and not just the ones who are struggling to be able to function.”

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