During the recent Goochland County School Board meeting, there were several agenda items that didn’t require much more than a cursory look-over and a quick vote of approval from the board.
This is the way it typically goes at public meetings, after all — not everything is headline grabbing. On this night, however, there was at least one item on the schedule that had everyone’s attention.
There to deliver a presentation on how the school division has been working to address the mental health needs of both students and staff, Dr. Jennifer Waggener and members of her team spent several minutes detailing a number of different initiatives school psychologists, guidance counselors, mental health counselors and others had created. Outlined in their presentation were the facts and figures, as well as descriptions of programs ranging from Red Ribbon Week — a week set aside to focus on mental health and substance abuse prevention — to the numerous workshops aimed at helping parents communicate with their children.
Unseen, of course, because these things are not easily measured, were the many thousands of ways both big and small that this focus on mental health and wellness has impacted lives in our community for the better.
Especially over the past year, many of our youngest residents have been walloped by a maelstrom of changes. From loss of social interaction to having to navigate a new and sometimes confusing world of online learning — not to mention watching the adults in their lives occasionally crack under the pressures of quarantine life — students may never have had a greater need for mental and emotional support.
Thankfully, GCPS had a team of sensitive, caring, vigilant employees who were there to meet that need.
Years ago, as one school board member pointed out after their presentation, schools may not have placed quite the same emphasis on ensuring a safe, nurturing environment for students. Many of us who are well past our school years may remember teachers and administrators as stern authority figures bent on “toughening” students up.
These days there are plans in place to help students in crisis, and watchful eyes looking for signs that a young person may need extra support. Gone — hopefully — are the days when mental health issues were hidden or seen as signs of weakness. Now students know there are places to turn, and that they are not alone.
It is a good thing for all that school environments have evolved. And it is a very good thing, indeed, that Goochland students know that they have a compassionate team of professionals always looking out for them.