The Unit 5 school board Wednesday voted to expand a collaborative agreement with Chestnut Health Systems to bring a full-time mental health counselor to Normal West high school.
The counselor will provide services including drug treatment, individual and group counseling, family support, and a connection to local agencies and resources.
Normal Community High School piloted the program in the spring, and Superintendent Mark Daniel said the school has already seen it benefit students.
“We want healthy students, both physically and mentally,” he said. “So we now collaborating with experts in the field of mental health to provide that service within our high schools.”
Daniel said the Chestnut clinician adds mental health expertise to the school's existing intervention teams.
He said sometimes students are referred to guidance counselors, but their needs are outside of the realm of their expertise—like handling extreme depression and suicide.
“Again, we’re wanting to improve mental health,” he said. “So this is now the liaison between the school system and mental health providers.”
Daniel said school guidance counselors are already overwhelmed and are not trained to address mental health needs. He says these professionals through Chestnut fill that gap.
Daniel said it may not address all mental health needs, but builds on the county’s action to expand and streamline programs.
The Chestnut clinicians will provide year-round service at no additional cost to students.
The district will pay each clinician $25,000 a year, and Daniel said it’s more than worth it.
“Right now that cost is just so minimal for us, it’s unbelievable,” he said.
Chestnut Health Systems picks up the rest of the tab.
Daniel said if the program continues to go well and the district sees a greater need, he hopes to expand the number of clinicians in Unit 5 schools.
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