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Underserved school districts in Butte County to get more mental health professionals

School bus
School bus

The Butte County Office of Education has received a $4 million federal grant to hire mental health professionals at districts in need.

The money will go toward hiring 10 wellness coaches, alongside other mental health administrators.

The Oroville Union High School District and the Palermo, Pioneer and Golden Feather Union elementary school districts were selected to participate.

“The main criteria was 80% or more of the students come from low-income families, English learners or students in foster care,” said Michelle Zevely, associate superintendent for the Butte County Office of Education.

In addition to helping students cope and grow, Zevely hopes the grant will help alleviate the shortage of credentialed mental health professionals in schools across the state.

“A wellness coach is somebody who is interested in being a counselor, perhaps interested in developing their skills around mental health and wellness,” Zevely said. “And hopefully, we will be able to build pathways for them to become a counselor if they want to.”

School officials say the additional mental health support is badly needed.

Kathleen Andoe-Nolind, the acting superintendent at the Palermo Union Elementary School District, said some of the students being served there have experienced a considerable amount of trauma.

“We see students who are just carrying so much baggage, they just don't have anything left to give in the classroom,” she said. “We're seeing there's more students who are depressed and anxious.”

Andoe-Nolind pointed to the COVID-19 lockdowns and severe wildfires in recent years as some shared examples.

The Safer Communities Act–Stronger Connections grant program will disperse the money over the next four years, starting in January.

The Butte County Office of Education is already working to hire the positions.

Alec Stutson grew up in Colorado and graduated from the University of Missouri with degrees in Radio Journalism, 20th/21st Century Literature, and a minor in Film Studies. He is a huge podcast junkie, as well as a movie nerd and musician.