The Walker County Board of Education has taken a significant step toward serving the mental health needs of county students.Misty Whisenhunt has been named mental health coordinator for Walker County …
The Walker County Board of Education has taken a significant step toward serving the mental health needs of county students.
Misty Whisenhunt has been named mental health coordinator for Walker County Schools — a first of its kind position in the school system. She has served as counselor at Curry Middle School for a number of years.
Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood said Whisenhunt's experience in counseling and the mental health field made her a strong choice for the job.
In May, Hagood candidly spoke to the Daily Mountain Eagle about growing concerns regarding the mental health of students. Appointing Whisenhunt as mental health coordinator is just one of many steps in the works to address the students' needs.
"It is an immediate issue, an immediate problem, and something that we have to address, hence Misty being here to work with these outside agencies to try to get the resources we need to help our kids," Hagood said.
Whisenhunt will work as a mediator between schools and local mental health organizations that can provide therapy and assistance to youth.
School counselors will work as they always have to identify students who may be battling mental illness and report to Whisenhunt. She will then arrange a meeting between a child and their parent(s), the school's counselor and an outside therapist to provide a support system for the child.
"The initial meeting is not to intimidate, it's just to learn what's going on," Whisenhunt said.
She could then arrange for a therapist to come to the school and meet with that child on a weekly basis, if needed.
Whisenhunt said the mental health coordinator position came along at the perfect time. For the past few months, she has been working part-time with Health Connect America's Japser office to provide one-on-one youth therapy sessions. As a counselor, she says she felt limited and knew enhanced therapy would be beneficial for many children.
She even considered opening her own practice to provide targeted mental health assistance before Hagood approached her about the new position.
Aside from arranging therapy for children and working closely with school counselors, Whisenhunt wants to provide resources for parents to help their children who may be struggling.
"We want to provide workshops for parents to make sure they are informed of different issues that their kids are facing," she said.
Whisenhunt also wants to oraganize parenting classes in the future.
Hagood said students have presented with more mental health concerns in the past five to 10 years. Social media, changes in family structure and the county's growing drug problem have all factored in to students needing more emotional support, he says.
"It's bigger than us, a lot of the issues our kids are facing. It really goes beyond what a school counselor is there for and their training," he said. "We're twice the size of our folks across the road (Jasper City Schools). The needs are probably similar, but a lot of our kids are in high poverty areas and probably see a little different set of circumstances. We need all the help we can get."
Hagood said there will soon be a meeting between the school system, the Walker Area Community Foundation and United Way of Central Alabama to discuss more avenues to help students with mental health needs.
The new mental health coordinator position may evolve over time, he said, as the school system incorporates more methods to help students.
Hagood admits some cuts were made at the central office in the past, but he justifies the new position based on the significant level of need.
"We have no choice. We've got to take measures to try to help our kids in our schools," he said.
Since Whisenhunt will no longer serve as counselor at Curry Middle, a new counselor will be announced in the coming weeks.