Crisis counselors considered in Edison schools

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By Jacqueline Durett
Correspondent

EDISON—Students and faculty alike may soon have access to more mental and emotional health support resources within the district.
At the Jan. 18 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Richard O’Malley discussed a proposal to add additional crisis counselors at the elementary school level. The district has a partnership with Rutgers University.Currently counselors are shared among the four middle schools, and there is one at each of the high schools, plus a supervisor.

He said that the district has more than 270 referrals for crisis assessments in the middle and high schools. As such, O’Malley recommended hiring two additional crisis counselors for the district’s 11 elementary schools.

“These are students that are very, very severe in crisis, very close to hospitalization,” he said.

The program expansion would allow the counselors to do the assessments at a younger age, but also do some preventive work, such as social skills training and stress and emotion management, before a student needs more assistance.

“We believe, given the numbers that we have, that this is really a necessity in our schools,” he said.

He said the expansion plan also include providing Rutgers mental health counselors for the school staff. The cost, he said, works out to approximately $27 per staff member. Staff members would be entitled to six sessions with a counselor, and it would be to assist them with various stressors and life events; after that, they would be referred to a counselor outside the program for additional treatment if necessary.

“To have a healthy staff is very important, both mentally and physically because the more they’re in the classroom, the more they can help their students,” he said, aadding he’d also like to see the district
become an advocate for this type of program at the state legislative level. “This is a progressive thing that school districts can do.”
O’Malley said he is currently in the process of determining where those professionals would be based, whether in Edison or at a Rutgers location.

According to board documents, the board discussed expanding the program to the elementary school level last June.

Counselor contracts would run February through June, with a future discussion planned for extending the program for the following school year.

A vote on the expansion was anticipated for the action meeting Monday night.

O’Malley said after the meeting that the program with Rutgers has been in place for the past five years.