SHERRARD, Ill. — Students in the Mercer County school district and the Sherrard school district will now have increased access to mental health services. It’s thanks to a grant from the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation for around $156,000 dollars.
The funding is going to further help employees with the Mercer County Health Department focus on school-based mental health case management services in the districts.
Sherrard High School Principal Tim Wernentin says the increase in mental health support is critical for students.
“All students need some support and it can come in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it can be through a favorite teacher or coach or administrator but many times they want a different set of ears to listen to their problems that can help provide some direction for them,” Wernentin said. “And this allows them to do that.”
The Mercer County Health Department’s Mental Health Action Program will head the program. It already exists in the schools, but it’s a part-time program.
Werentin says this will allow the mental health care workers focusing on the districts to double the amount of time they have available for students.
“Especially in these COVID days, students are struggling a little more than usual,” Wernentin said.
The QC Community Foundation vice president of grantmaking and community initiatives Kelly Thompson was a part of the efforts to connect the funding to the districts.
Mercer County is considered a health-professional shortage area due to only one mental health provider per 7,800 residents in the county.
“Educators know that without students having good mental and emotional wellbeing, or adults that are able to be there for them and connect them with resources they need, then they aren't going to be present and able to fully engage in their education,” Thompson said.
The grant will happen over the course of three years, making sure that the program is sustainable through at least 2024. Principal Wernentin says it’s nice to have an extra layer of protection for students in the area.
Wernentin also notes these professionals are different than school counselors. Those individuals are widely trained to help students with a variety of issues. These workers through the health department are narrowly focused on suicide prevention and protection.