Wilkes Region Stepping Up Co-Located Services to 6 Elementary Schools
Becoming a counselor to children in Wilkes County elementary schools couldn’t be more natural for therapist Jessica Call, LCMHC, who works in CareNet’s Northwest region.
“I have kids that are school age and I went to Wilkes County schools as a kid,” she says. “Those two things are important. Being from this area, I wanted to have or create a healthier environment and dynamic for people, kids especially, who are struggling.”
Call was the Northwest region’s first counselor to work with students, starting at four elementary schools in 2019, when the school system inquired of CareNet about providing mental health services. The system’s regular school counselors were already stretched thin, and they were mostly trained to handle educational and family issues.
“This is more intense than school counselors have time to provide,” says Robert Willis, CareNet’s Northwest region director. He worked with the school system, which received funding for the mental health counseling program through the federal government, to make it happen.
Unfortunately, he and Call note, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into plans in early 2020 during the program’s first year. Call says she still went to the schools during that spring semester, with the expectation that parents would bring their children to the school for sessions, even though they were being educated at home by that point.
“It worked in a minimal way,” she says.
This year, however, with children back in school, the program has expanded to six schools, and Call is now joined by Esme Bieberly, LCMHCA, and Ashley Allman, LCMHCA, in working with students identified by teachers and parents. Willis says he is grateful for the teachers, principals and counselors who have worked with CareNet to allow the program to proceed and expand.
Call says underlying trauma and neglect are two big issues for children in the region, with poverty a contributing factor.
“This is a Title 1 system, where the majority of families are lower income,” Call says. Resources, or lack of resources, is an important thing.”
Call was part of CareNet’s original residency class and has worked all 13 years of her professional career in the Wilkes region. In addition to spending one day a week in Wilkes schools, she works two days a week at the Grace Clinic, which offers free mental health care for adults who are 200% under the poverty level. She’s glad to know that her region’s office is committed to helping those in need, especially children who might not otherwise receive mental health care.
“The kids are always excited when I show up, when I come to pull them out of class,” she says. “They’re ready to go. They want to do some play therapy, even if it’s hard stuff they’re talking about. That’s a big reward factor for me.”