New programs at Collier County Schools help with students’ post-pandemic mental health, stress

Reporter: Nicole Lauren Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Students socializing as a part of the We Dine Together program. Credit: Collier County Public Schools

Due to the the pandemic, the Collier County School District is placing a bigger emphasis on your child’s social and emotional needs, with a focus on making sure kids feel comfortable and connected with other students and staff.

“If a student experiences a crisis when they come back onto campus, we have Handle with Care, we have some wraparound supports in place,” said Dr. Peggy Aune, associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools. “Those are things that are just, again, part of building that school community, and I think that’s so important.”

“The stressors are definitely enhanced this year,” said Jim Ragusa, principal of Palmetto Ridge High School. “You think about the stress, whether it’s financial, losing a loved one… those are definitely there. There is pressure on kids.”

One program, known as the Buddy Bench, is where students can go if they are feeling lonely, and a friendship ambassador will tag along. Another initiative is called We Dine Together. This is where students can get together and also jot down positive messages or words for themselves and each other. The school district says these little things can go a long way, especially when a student is struggling.

“That connection can make the difference for a kid coming forward to speak to someone about the issue that’s really troubling them at home, and sometimes it’s just the stressors of being an adolescent,” Ragusa said.

In the Handle with Care system mentioned by Aune, a hand-on-hand icon appears on a dashboard only teachers can see; so if a student has had any issues, the icon can be placed next to their name, and the teacher will know they may need some extra attention.

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