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Partnering with the Health Department Enables Portsmouth to Address Mental Wellness Needs

After two years of the coronavirus pandemic, what can schools do to improve the mental health of students? School districts such as Portsmouth, Va., Public Schools are trying to make students feel less alone.

Superintendent Elie Bracy III and school board Chairman Cardell Portillo spoke Thursday in an AASA conference session on “Here to Help: Supporting Students’ Mental Health Needs.”

“Everywhere you turn, everyone was screaming one thing: Help!” Portillo said.

When Portsmouth Public Schools closed in March 2020 due to the coronavirus, students experienced isolation, stress and, in some cases trauma such as gun violence in the community.

But how to get students to take advantage of those services?

The campaign created public service announcements that include celebrity shoutouts from actor Anthony Anderson and comedian Cedric the Entertainer. Celebrity video messages can be purchased via a website called Cameo.

The strategy proved successful as traffic to the Here to Help webpage increased by 1,000 percent.
Initially open to Portsmouth Public School students, the reach of counseling services was extended to private and homeschooled students.

While the campaign started during the pandemic, the campaign will continue its mission to help the Portsmouth community.

“The biggest thing that [we] learned through this is to get the information out there,” Bracy said.

(Kahwit Tela is an intern reporter with Conference Daily Online and a senior journalism and new media major at Lipscomb University in Nashville.)

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