NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — With all the unique circumstances for all the school year will be held this fall, access to mental health services for teachers and students is more important than its ever been.
In the third meeting for the North Little Rock School District's Task Force, concerns of mental health among their students and teachers started to come up.
Those concerns quickly turned into a mission, according to the district's Executive Director of Special Services LeAnn Alexander, to put their students' mental needs at the center of their fall 2020 plans.
"We felt like students can't begin to learn academically if they're mental health needs are not taken care of," she said.
While districts across the state continue to navigate what the upcoming school year will look like, North Little Rock is addressing a need that goes far past the required curriculum.
Alexander said the topic of mental health came up after they heard concerns from students and teachers.
"We just felt like it was very important to have a piece to address mental health for our staff and students as we are preparing to come back to school," she said.
It's a piece that has several moving parts, according to Alexander.
For students, the district has already partnered with over 20 mental health providers for free individual or group therapy for students of all ages.
Also, teachers were trained over the summer on how to deal with trauma. Guidance counselors put together videos and lessons so teachers can discuss mental health and COVID in the classroom.
There's help for teachers as well, with eight free virtual therapy sessions available to them.
"As we get going and students are on campus, we'll see those needs and our district stands ready to address all those needs," Alexander said.
These worries are not only being discussed at the district between teachers and administration, but also with local pediatricians in central Arkansas, like Dr. Sarah Bone with Arkansas Pediatric Clinic.
"We're seeing lots of kids in with concerns about anxiety, depression, sleeping too much, irritability," she said.
Bone said this is a trend they've been seeing across all four of their clinics, with children of all ages, in the past several months.
"For a lot of kids, I think, the loss of structure and routine that school provides has been difficult for them," she said.
On top of that, Bone believes kids not being able to play sports and extracurriculars as well as watching their parents become stressed has added to it.
But the pediatrician is optimistic about what the school year can provide.
"I'm actually hopeful that a return to a little bit of a normal routine, although it may be a different normal, will be helpful," she said.
Dr. Bone said if parents want to help their children they need to sit down and talk with them, provide a set schedule, and make sure they are getting enough sleep.