GAUTIER, Miss. (WLOX) - Students are dealing with a much more stressful school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pascagoula Gautier School District is heightening their focus on mental health with its Whole Child Education initiative.
On Wednesday, students at College Park Elementary School teamed up to play all types of games. Those games, however, were really helping to teach them about the importance of teamwork, said school counselor Natalie McKinney. Teamwork is just one of the areas McKinney focuses on in her weekly character education classes.
“We start off at the very beginning talking about what does a counselor do, self esteem, that it’s important to be unique, that we don’t want to be the same people,” she said. “Then we move into kindness, diversity.”
McKinney believes acknowledging accomplishments is important for both teachers and students. There’s even a special prize machine inside of College Park Elementary that students can earn tickets for.
“If staff members are happy, then it bleeds over into the classroom,” said McKinney. “We want to make sure everyone here is happy and morale is up.”
For days when students may not be feeling so happy, the district’s Lead Behavior Specialist Kristen Sims is just one of the counselors they can talk to.
“Let’s talk about big feelings. When you feel sad, what is that like? Do you feel it in your body?” said Sims. “What are things that when you feel sad help you feel happy, and that’s us moving into working on coping skills and those strategies.”
Whole Child Education Director Chase McCullum says communication is key in caring for mental health, whether it’s for children or adults.
“We talk a lot with our teachers and with our staff and with our students and our parents about self care and how to talk to people or express when you’re feeling overwhelmed,” said McCullum. “Talking about it, recognizing it and acknowledging it, is going to be the key to getting the help that you need.”
Each school in the Pascagoula Gautier School District has a counselor on campus to assist students.