Ava School District hires mental health social worker for elementary-age students after COVID-19

AVA, Mo. – When Ava School District returned to class after COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020, administrators made the decision to bring additional mental health services to the district. Now, the plan is finally coming to fruition.

Ava Superintendent Aaron Dalton told The Heartlander his school district began surveying parents at the time to identify students’ needs, which is when the district received multiple requests for additional student counseling services. Dalton then began attending Missouri Ozarks Community Health (MOCH) meetings and agreed the school could benefit from additional services.

MOCH provided Dalton with statistics showing mental health services were on top of its list for most provided services in the area. Among others, MOCH currently offers mental health support for students at neighboring Licking School District. 

“At school we deal with all sorts of challenges and hurdles as we try to figure out the best way to meet the needs of our students,” Dalton said. “We have some students who come to school and they have never spent time with their peer-aged students, maybe just their siblings at home. There is not another setting where they are interacting with a large group of students their own age. For some students, that transition comes pretty easy; for some it is a bigger adjustment. Sometimes that is fixed with an instructional strategy.”

MOCH is a federally qualified nonprofit health center funded by grant money, and has seven clinic locations in south central Missouri. According to the MOCH website, the group was established in 1996 with intent to provide medical care to all individuals within Douglas, Texas, Wright and Ozark Counties. The main office is in Ava. 

Ava school administrators held a screening process for Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) applicants and chose April Moody to be the school’s new behavior specialist. Dalton says Moody is building relationships with current staff members and will monitor classroom settings in order to provide better feedback for student behavioral issues. Moody also will observe hallway behavior.

Once behavioral issues are identified, Moody may reach out to parents and discuss one-on-one sessions with their child. On-site resources often help students with coping skills and how to be more successful. According to Dalton, a social worker will not approach one-on-one sessions until a parent approves services. 

While Moody’s position is specifically meant for elementary-aged students, the school district has an additional mental health provider in place for older students, though students are able to work with Moody upon request. 

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