In 2019, before anyone could conceive of a pandemic, District 202 increased its number of social workers from 70 to 90 to provide extra support to students, Tim Albores, director of student services for high school and ED/alternative programs.
The 20 additional social workers, along with the other mental health initiatives District 202 provides, is a complete turnabout from the way it used to perceive the school/mental health connection, Albores said.
District 202 offers a variety of counseling resources, including an onsite partnership with Hartgrove Behavioral Health and access to Referral GPS, a free database for District 202 families to connect with counseling services.
Albores recalled District 202′s response just 10 years ago when busy parents asked if their kids could get therapy at school during lunchtime.
“We used to say, ‘No. This is our time. This is our protected educational time,’” Albores said. “A couple years later, we realized that was a mistake. Kids needed it.”
Albores said District 202 noticed some students really struggling with trauma and adverse childhood experiences. At the same time, the topic of mental health became less of a stigma, he said.
“They needed the help and couldn’t access it. So why not be a conduit for that?” Albores said. “We did a 180 and realized we needed to offer them a space, even help create that initial introduction to help them get that support they so desperately needed.”
But Albores never sees the current list of resources as a completed list.
“I don’t think we can ever be comfortable where we’re at,” Albores said. “There’s always room to make things better or to provide more resources. … We need to keep building in community to make sure our kids have what they need to be successful with that next step.”
Albores said kids, sometimes, are at school more than they are at home. So he’s on the lookout for more resources he can bring to families.
“As much as I don’t want schools to take on more, is there a way we can continue to partner with community organizations that doesn’t add workload to the school district and doesn’t cost us anything?” Albores said.
Albores deferred credit for any of it. He said District 202′s focus on mental health resources is a collaborative effort among Mina Griffith, assistant superintendent for student services, Glen Wood, superintendent, the board of education and himself.
“They give me the opportunity to run with these things, first and foremost,” Albores said. “But most importantly, it’s our teacher, our social workers, our counselors – the ones with boots on the ground – that makes these magical things happen.”
Griffith gives Albores plenty of credit.
“This is a passion for him to ensure our students are really supported socially and emotionally so they can learn academically,” Griffith said. “We couldn’t do this without Mr. Albores. He has really been a leader and he will continue to keep it at the forefront for all of us.”
Griffith said, “thank goodness” Albores began leading this initiative before the pandemic or District 202 families could have faced “a very different situation.” Instead families and staff had plenty of tools within reach.
“Really, I just want everyone to know we really feel lucky to have Mr. Albores in our district,” Griffith said.