MIAMI — North Miami Senior High School student Jean Pierre Louis is thinking about his future as he prepares to graduate.
He attended an esteem building program called Blueprint for Success this past week and it left him feeling empowered.
“I learned I am a blueprint in the making,” he said. “There’s a contractor in my mind. A way to better myself.”
When asked about the response at his school to mental health issues that many students are dealing with after the COVID pandemic, he said there is a noticeable outreach effort.
“We have teachers, staff and even janitors asking, ‘How are you doing?” Louis said.
The program highlights the training all Miami-Dade school staffers have received in order to recognize students who may be dealing with mental health issues.
“One of the areas we honed in on was training awareness for all stakeholders,” said Sally Alayor, assistant superintendent with the Office of Mental Health and Student Services. “We are starting to talk about mental health more and more. Help Is all around. You don’t have to feel people will look at you the wrong way.”
To that end, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Dr. Jose Dotres has expanded the hours of the district’s mental health assistance line to seven days a week from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Parents can dial 305-995-7100 to receive immediate assistance in finding help for a child who may be experiencing a problem.
Most of the services are free.
Marie Cine has been fielding calls for years and says there has been a marked increase in requests.
“There are a lot of calls with anxiety,” she said.
“The pandemic kept students isolated,” Dotres said. “When you look at it, it was a two-year cycle.”
Officials suggest that COVID has brought changes to the district’s response to those in need of assistance.
“We have realized more than ever the concept of looking at the whole child,” Dotres said. “You have to attend to the social relationship and mental health side.”
All schools in Miami-Dade have at least one counselor and there are over 200 student-support specialists who are ready to assist.
In Broward County, there is a similar emphasis on mental health in the public school district, which is offering increased resources that are earmarked for students who feel overwhelmed or sad.
Deerfield Beach High School recently turned an old abandoned health clinic on its campus Into the Beach House, a place where students can decompress and so much more
Besides rooms for counseling, there is a student-run storage room that provides free clothing and shoes for anyone who needs them.
There is also a hygiene storage room where students can get free toothpaste and other personal care items they may need.
The Beach House was the brainchild of Principal John Marlowe, who said it was created in 2019 after the deaths of three students, two of whom committed suicide.
“It really impacted kids and they needed a place for support,” he said. “It became a place for sanctuary. I feel it’s made a huge difference. Everyone feels part of the solution.”
Teacher Stephanie Beaty, a social emotional learning liaison, said: “The state of our students mental wellness has taken a plunge.”
COVID also played a role in students’ emotional needs.
“They are delayed emotionally and mentally on how to respond when they are under stress or anxiety,” she said.
CBS Miami asked students about stressors in their lives.
“I’m a second mother to my younger sister and a lot of kids in middle school are dealing with that, too” said Namara Joseph.
Student Talita Dacosta said the Beach House has been a plus for students with 20 a day now making their way to the facility
“You can talk about your feelings,” Talita said.