Task force aims to connect families with mental-health resources

District seeks communication on a variety of fronts.

At a time when staff and students are being kept apart, members of Cherry Hill Public Schools are hard at work brainstorming ways to keep students feeling connected.

Board member Ruth Schultz provided an update on the work of the district’s Mental Health Task Force at the Jan. 26 board of education meeting. She said the task force met earlier that day to brainstorm ideas on what more could be done to connect with both students and parents. The group ultimately decided that in the weeks to come, it would attempt communication on a variety of fronts,  including Zoom meetings, live webinars and Q&As posted to the district’s website.

Schultz also said the task force decided to form subcommittees to focus on some of the key areas around which it is interested in providing messaging and information. One of them is meditation and mindfulness. Another will focus on developing programming for parent university to delve into ideas like how to raise resilient kids and deal with stress.

The task force plans to host a Zoom meeting or webinar providing an overview of the mental-health services the district already offers. Schultz said it already offers an extensive array of resources, but some parents may not know what they are, how to access them or where to go. 

Fellow board member Ben Ovadia echoed the sentiment. He said getting mental- health services for kids can be a difficult maze for parents to navigate.

“I think it’s critical that people know what we offer,” he added.

As it stands, the Mental Health Task Force has been in existence within the district for nearly two decades. It was formed in response to a rise in the district’s student suicides.

“The Mental Health Task Force has taken on different iterations through the last 18 years or so that it’s existed.” said Superintendent Joseph Meloche. (It’s existed) in times of crisis and in times of quiet and in times of quiet that follow crisis.”

Meloche noted that the district offers a mental-health screening tool to the district’s high school students each spring. Parents must give their consent for students to take the screener: As it currently stands, only 10 to 12 percent of students take it each year.

Another subcommittee will explore families with food security issues. As of last March, any child in the Cherry Hill community can receive free meals through the district’s food service program until June of this year. 

Board member Ineda “Corrien” Elmore-Stratton suggested that the committee begin to discuss ways for the district to help feed families when the free lunches run out in June.

Assistant Superintendent and Board Secretary Lynn Shugars said free and reduced-lunch applications are down this year as a result of the free meals. Because the applications help determine the district’s meal funding in the year ahead, administrators have been reaching out to families who applied last year to encourage them to renew applications.

“Once free meals are no longer available, we need to get people back into that mode,” Shugars said.