WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – As there is a growing need for counselors in the state, Westfield Public Schools works in partnership with River Valley Counseling and Rick’s Place to provide additional emotional support for students.

The River Valley Counseling provides four to five clinicians that will come into the school buildings for entire days. This meets the need of about 52 referrals that came in this month so far.

Currently, there are about 36 counselors that focus on social and emotional learning, plus academics and careers. With River Valley Counseling’s partnership with the school district, adjustment counselors are allotted more time to work with more students in small groups, enter classrooms, and do social-emotional learning with a whole class.

As a result of the pandemic, students’ mental health has become more evident in a school setting. “If a student isn’t in a good place mentally then it is a barrier to learning. They really may have something else going on and can’t focus on instruction,” said Westfield Public Schools superintendent, Stefan Czaporowski. “We need to really help them to be prepared and successful in a school environment.”

For adolescents and families that may have lost a loved one due to the pandemic or another cause, Rick’s Place helps with their grief. “The counseling students receive can continue through school vacations and through the summer to carry the progress forward,” adds the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Susan Dargie. However, counseling often takes years to have its desired effect.

River Valley Counseling continuation through summer and vacations would be at the request of parents. Students can also be seen in the clinic. Typically, a student who is referred to River Valley Counseling is already seeing an adjustment counselor, which brings additional support. Sometimes family counseling can also be a result.

“Vast majority of our students are having their needs addressed, but I always think we could do better. Counselor-to-student ratio is a strength of ours,” expressed Czaporowski.

“When we think about educating students, we are educating the whole student and we can’t separate out a child’s brain from their emotions and from their social skills and needs,” said Dargie. “So we have to look at the big picture.”

For the school to completely replenish from the pandemic, it can take five to 10 years, according to Cazaporowksi, but is certain the vast majority of students will be ok.

A future BRYT program may also be another future development for Westfield Public Schools. This will allow more support for students that may be coming out of hospitalization. “Meeting the need that is needed at that time,” said Dargie.

“We often have students who are really struggling to maintain in the classroom, they really can’t be in that general setting,” explained Dargie. “A program like this would be another space where there is an educator there, but there is also a clinician” (hospitalized for their own safety). With these services, the school district has hopes the mental and academic needs of students will be met.