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Warsaw Community Schools making strides to improve mental health, safety

WARSAW, Ind. -- As Indiana State officials realize student mental health is a serious factor when it comes to school safety, Warsaw Community Schools have already taken the initiative to address issue.

“There was a poll done with our students at the high school and wellness was one of the things that they identified that were not well. Anxiety is a huge problem and looking at suicide and drugs and understanding those things. And as we move forward, we want to be able to help our students,” said Gina Courtois, Social-Emotional Learning Coordinator for Warsaw Community Schools.

In the wake of a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School, state officials released a 135-page report offering administrators across Indiana safety suggestions. These included the obvious building modifications with self-locking doors and covered windows, but this year, the report was centered on mental health.

Chief Academic Officer of WCS, David Robertson said he believes student’s mental health is absolutely critical to school safety.

“We can spend a lot of time, money, and energy to deal with the symptoms but we really feel strongly that we want to help with the underlying root issues,” said Robertson.

While the state only requires one safety specialist per school district, Warsaw certifies each of their principals making for 11 specialists.

WCS is one of only two schools in Michiana that provide mental health services through a community mental health center. The other school district offering these services is the South Bend Community School Corporation.

The district works alongside several agencies like the Bowen Center and doctors from Butler University to help students build key relationships in their personal lives.

Staff like School Resource Officer Roy Navarro who is not only a police officer but often acts as a counselor.

“I think the biggest thing I like to look at when I’m working is: Are students coming in with a smile? I know that when they’re having a bad day, you can see it,” said Navarro. “Maybe they missed breakfast; they had an argument with their parents. At that point, we talk with them, say ‘hey,’ give them high fives, fist bumps, and that normally helps them get through that morning and get them going at least in school.”

The four officers within the school district are trained to spot when a student’s behavior shifts indicating something could be wrong.

“A kid may come in one day, hair normal color. The next thing you know, they may come in with crazy colors, they may get their ears pierced, or they may change clothes up really quick. Or you can just tell by the facial expressions. That’s what I’m looking at. What are you doing today that’s not making you happy? What are you trying to do to make yourself happy?” said Navarro.

These proactive measures taken by the school district are working to make school safety and mental wellness equal priorities.

Student leadership groups like sources of strength focus on passing along hope and healing. 

Although the school is doing what they can, the experts agree that a student’s wellness starts and ends at home.

“Maybe their parents were arrested that night or an argument about why they were doing something on social media,” said Navarro “Dig in more parents. There’s a lot that happens during the day and I can tell you that just – keep on working with your kids.”

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