These new staffers could prevent a school shooting. And they're not armed guards

New mental health counselors could make schools safer.
New mental health counselors could make schools safer.

Horry County Schools is hiring eight new mental health counselors for the next school year in an effort to make schools safer and reduce disruptions in class.

"A lot of the problems with students that were involved in shootings were mainly because they had mental health issues," said school board member Holly Heniford. "Hopefully with the interventions that we’re putting in place and having these counselors available, that we’ll be able not to ever get to that point but also improve mental health."

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The district's 2018-19 budget includes $583,000 for the eight Rehabilitative Behavioral Health Services counselors, also known as RBHS counselors.

Heniford said stressors at home such as illness or death in the family may cause students to act out. The counselors are there to help kids work through any issues they have that could affect their performance in school.

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"If they become disruptive, they not only pull themselves away from studies, they pull other students away from studies," Heniford said. "Even when they get older, they’ll have emotional coping skills so they won’t act out, they may not get into fights as often because they’ll understand ways mentally to work through emotions."

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Chief of Students Services Velna Allen said the district needs counselors to help improve students' behavior and teach them the importance of an education.

Right now the district employs 69 counselors, and also contracts with Waccamaw Mental Health for additional services. But some schools still don't have them.

"Our goal is to have at least one Waccamaw Mental Wealth counselor or an RBHS counselor in every school and we don’t," said Allen. "Some of our schools have used their Title I funds and they have multiple RBHS counselors."

The additional eight lead counselors should give every school at least one counselor, even if they're part time, Allen said, adding that there are more kids with counseling needs than the district can provide.

If a child needs counseling and their school doesn't have any counselors, the kids are referred to other resources, but it's more difficult for them to get help because the students have to see those counselors after class hours and need their parents to take them, Allen said.

And the additional counselors should help reduce fighting and tardiness as well as children learning to cope with their issues.

"We’ve started tracking how many discipline referrals we have," Allen said. "We should see a decrease in discipline referrals, we should see kids wanting to come to school more and not be out. It does help the schools and it helps the child get that education they need. And that’s the business we’re in."