Despite challenges, schools in the city of Garfield Heights are excelling in student mental health, argue

Despite challenges, schools in the city of Garfield Heights are excelling in student mental health, argue

GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — News 5’s Katie Ussin visited school districts in northeast Ohio to learn about their challenges and accomplishments.

Schools in the city of Garfield Heights faced challenges to start this new school year. There were safety concerns and a teachers’ strike was averted thanks to a new contract agreed last month.

However, the new leadership of the central office has rekindled hope among staff and students that the district can overcome these challenges together while growing for good.

Jalyn Ricks is a fifth grade student at Elmwood Elementary School. He just found out he was on the basketball team, which he is very excited about, but says he is most proud of his accomplishments off the court.

“Coming to school every day, doing my job and being careful,” Jalyn said.

His excellence in class earned him student of the month.

“Getting this award is just great because it shows you’re doing good,” he said.

Celebrating the good with initiatives like this is just one of the ways Elmwood Elementary has kept kids motivated and engaged while focusing on the whole child, says school counselor Jen Huncharek.

They aim “to show them what they do here matters,” Huncharek said.

She says they also do a lot of work on emotional learning.

The Ohio School Board recently awarded Elmwood its highest rating for creating a safe and supportive school environment, which is part of the state’s strategic plan for education.

Huncharek says the reward is reflected in students like Jalyn.

“Every day when I wake up I have this mindset like, I’m ready to learn. Today is going to be a good day, and let’s go,” Jalyn said.

In the meantime, there is also something to celebrate in high school.

The National Honor Society is helping launch a new mental health initiative at her school.

NHS students will be trained to provide peer-to-peer support. It will be inspired by the successful program in the schools of Parma.

NHS seniors Micheal and Makayla say their school needs it.

“I’m looking forward to helping people and making something we’ve wanted to start for years actually happen,” said Makayla Svoboda.

“I went through depression and I still suffer from anxiety,” said Micheal Dimond. “So I would like to help people. All my life I always wanted to help people.”

“That was one of my big goals before I decided to retire, whatever the timing,” Joni Wanderstock said with a smile.

She had wanted to set up a mental health program there for years.

Wanderstock is a high school intervention specialist who has been teaching for 43 years.

She is also an NHS adviser. She gets emotional when talking about her students, and it’s obvious that their well-being and hers are intertwined.

“I love them, and they know I love them and that’s what makes it even more special,” she said.

Wanderstock thanks the new superintendent for helping to make the mental health program a reality. She says he inspired a lot of optimism for the future of the neighborhood.

“We’re all in this together,” said Dr. Richard Reynolds, Superintendent of Schools for the City of Garfield Heights. “So we have to make sure that we take care of each other, and I’ve seen a lot of great sparks of people who really care about business. I want to support that, and highlight those things, and show everyone in this – showing everyone in the district – that we can be successful. We can do a great job. We can take care of the children if we do it together.

Elmwood hosts the official launch of the Ohio Skills Competition for the Heroes League. It is a game-based online learning platform.

Elmwood was one of the first schools in the state to test it, and the district says early data indicates it improved test scores among participants in ELA, math and science.

Garfield Heights is a neighborhood of approximately 3,100 students and 500 employees.

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