June 2019 Writer \/\/ Janelle Morrison Photography \/\/ Laura Arick The Carmel Clay Schools (CCS) board of trustees recently approved the hiring of Stephanie Whiteside as its first mental health coordinator, officially beginning her duties on June 3. Whiteside earned her master\u2019s degree in social work from the University of Chicago. She began her career as a therapist in the Indianapolis Public Schools district and recently served as the director of Cummins Behavioral Health Systems overseeing the clinical and operational health programming for 113 Indiana schools throughout five counties. \u201cI\u2019ve been so encouraged by the positive responses by the community and by the support that this position has been given,\u201d Whiteside said. \u201cI think CCS academics and achievements speak for themselves, and I really think the investment in students\u2019 mental health further shows that CCS care about the whole child and what is best for the students. That played a large part in why I made this decision .\u201d Stephanie Whiteside, mental health coordinator at CCS. Whiteside has been in the mental health field for a little over 10 years, starting out as a school-based therapist. During that time, she saw though the lens of education the value in working with students and their families in a school environment. \u201cInterestingly, I was diagnosed with ADHD in the third grade, so I know firsthand how mental health influences social functioning and academic functioning,\u201d Whiteside shared. \u201cWhen I look back, I think of those teachers and mentors that were there to support me throughout journey, so that\u2019s really what piqued my interest in the field.\u201d Whiteside continued, \u201cMy experience at Cummins has provided me the opportunity to work with different school systems. I\u2019ve been able to work with administrators, teachers, students, families, law enforcement and other community partners. We\u2019ve been able to develop comprehensive mental health services in the schools.\u201d Transferring those skills over to her new role at CCS, Whiteside is spending her first 30 days getting acclimated to CCS administrators and community partners. \u201cI also want to get a better understanding of the needs and strengths of the school community,\u201d she stated. \u201cThen, I will begin developing those relationships, community supports and partnerships within the community that I think are going to benefit our students and families. I am also developing that internal knowledge base, the supportive interventions, and am identifying important linkages for students who may need more intensive support as well.\u201d Role of Mental Health Coordinator When asked about the role that the school district\u2019s first mental health coordinator will play on the district\u2019s efforts to reduce the numbers of student addiction\/overdose, suicide, depression and other mental health-related occurrences throughout the student body, Whiteside replied, \u201cWhen I speak with teachers, parents and community members, many of them bring up these same concerns, and I hear a lot of people ask, \u2018How can we help?\u2019 and \u2018What can we do?\u2019 I hope to spread awareness, and I hope to provide that education to assist students and their families and the school professionals on identifying the warning signs and identifying strategies to help support our youth.\u201d Whiteside emphasized that recognizing risk factors and warning signs are the first step to reducing these issues and occurrences. \u201cI think the next step is connecting to those beneficial resources and supports that can come from within our school or our community,\u201d Whiteside explained. \u201cI see my role as a resource, a support and a bridge for those resources and partnerships. I think that\u2019s where my background as a social worker is very beneficial because it\u2019s just natural that I want to go out into the community, and I want to build those relationships and partnerships. I also want to maintain and foster ongoing partnerships that we already have. You mentioned community partners such as the Carmel Youth Assistance Program and Carmel Police Department, and I want to support their efforts as well, as they\u2019re making a difference in our community.\u201d Obstacles To Improving Mental Health for CCS Students When asked what the present obstacles are in improving the mental health and well-being for the CCS student body, Dr. Michael Beresford, superintendent at CCS, responded, \u201cI don\u2019t know that there is anybody who doesn\u2019t want to help a student in need. I think the obstacles are things like stigma. Sometimes there\u2019s a stigma associated with mental health, and we\u2019ve got to rid of that. We\u2019re chipping away at that stigma, but it\u2019s still there, and until we are comfortable with mental health needs having the same importance as physical health needs, we\u2019re going to have to keep working until we get that to be widely accepted.\u201d The focus among the administrators at CCS is not solely on the mental health of its high schoolers but on its middle school and elementary school-age students as well. \u201cThe earlier the better,\u201d Whiteside expressed. \u201cThe culture of making connections is key, and once we start modeling and talking about mental health and focusing on our strengths and restorative practices, I think that students are going to start developing the ability to regulate, and we will be able to identify any concerns much earlier on as well.\u201d Dave Woodward, director of student services, added, \u201cWhen talking about supports for younger kids, we have a very strong core of social workers in our elementary schools now who are working closely with our families in need and with our community resources. That\u2019s part of why we\u2019re so excited that Stephanie came on board because she has the background that can provide additional leadership for that group that is already doing such incredible work at our schools, especially our elementary schools.\u201d Whiteside added, \u201cI think that making connections with children is key, and as human beings, I think we\u2019re wired to develop connections. As adults, what we can do is model those healthy behaviors. We need to prioritize our mental health, practice self-regulation and preservation. We need to not be afraid to reach out to our resources, and we need to talk about the importance of mental health and well-being with children. Let them know that if they ever feel that they\u2019re not well that you are there to support them, that they have a community that is there to support them. Those are key factors in developing that village.\u201d Speaking directly to parents and guardians of the CCS student body, Beresford said, \u201cI think sometimes there is a feeling that if our kids are struggling or if you\u2019re struggling as a parent that you feel like you\u2019re a bad parent and you isolate instead of reaching out for help. Parenting is a tough job. We have to get rid of those barriers so that when you\u2019re struggling, or your child is struggling, you feel comfortable reaching out for help. The thing we say a lot around here is, \u2018It is OK to not be OK.\u2019 The key to that is getting the help that you need.\u201d Woodward concluded, \u201cI can tell you that out of all our administrators, social workers, student services coordinators and SROs, there\u2019s not one of them that wouldn\u2019t be able to point you in the right direction immediately based on whatever the situation is that you\u2019re dealing with. The connections in this community are so strong, and there are so many resources. We just need to make sure that our parents know that we can help them access those resources.\u201d Contact CCS at ccs.k12.in.us.