Birmingham Councilors Approve $ 1 Million to Support City Student Mental Health

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Birmingham City Council on Tuesday voted to approve $ 1 million to help Birmingham City Schools Mental Health Services (BCS) program for students.

Superintendent Mark Sullivan, Ed.D. said the past 18 months have been a challenge for families, parents and students around COVID-19.

“We unfortunately lost eight employees to COVID-19 and one high school student Jackson Olin,” Sullivan said. “This can only have an impact on the way teaching takes place in the classroom and the way students treat and socialize on a daily basis. “

The losses created unusual problems for staff and family members, he said.

“[People involved with BCS] have not had the opportunity, as in the past, to have a full-fledged funeral where people bring family members, and you have the opportunity to mourn. It wore them out.

BCS recently asked students to talk about their mental challenges, said Courtney Nelson, director of socio-emotional learning for BCS.

“They are dealing with depression. They are suffering the loss of loved ones, ”said Nelson. “They are going through traumatic events due to the social injustices that have existed for the last 18 months, aside from COVID, and some of the things that have come into play with these issues. “

The funding came after Mayor Randall Woodfin offered to spend the money to establish the mental health care program. BCS will also use some of its Cares Act money and hire a mental health coordinator to scale up services.

Sullivan said he and the mayor started conversations about increasing funding last spring, when they knew the pandemic could cause mental health issues in addition to physical problems for students.

Councilors said they fully support the spending.

Councilor Crystal Smitherman, who has worked with Girls Inc. of Central Alabama, a nonprofit that mentors and educates girls ages six to 18, said she has seen the hardships many young people face.

“I remember one session we asked the kids, ‘When was the last time you heard’ I love you? They were fourth graders and it was only half the room. They just started to cry boohoo.

Councilor Valerie Abbott said she “was jealous of the children”, but not lately.

“It just seems that [kids] have so many struggles and so much to overcome. Right now, with the strangeness of it all. Who would think that almost two years later, we are still wearing masks and trying to stay away from each other? . . . and I’m sure the kids are just wondering what’s going on.

Councilor Steven Hoyt said: “No one chooses mental health, [Mental health] chooses them, and if we don’t give it the attention it needs, then it moves on and it’s not fair to the child.

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