Watauga County Schools kicked off the new academic year with an increase in student enrollment and more programs to serve them. A primary focus for the district is expanding mental health support and access to these services.

For several years Appalachian State University faculty and graduate students have provided a mental health clinic in Watauga County schools. The district recently expanded that partnership to include clinical social workers. It also hired its own clinical licensed social worker to serve students and help grow the program.

Superintendent Scott Elliott says their efforts don't stop there.

“We have implemented an additional day treatment program for middle school students who are experiencing mental health needs," says Elliott. "And we have increased the number of school nurses that we have because we often know that many of the issues that students face first start out as some type of health concern.”

Before the pandemic, the district had seven school nurses. Currently it has 11 that were hired through additional state and federal dollars.

Elliott says the school system will continue to grow mental health services and programs as more funding becomes available.

Staffing in general has been a focus point for the district as the school year begins. The district hired 85 new employees. There's still a need for additional bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and school resource officers.

This small rural school district serves more than 4,700 students. This year, it saw an increase in enrollment of around 150 students.

Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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