Piatt County schools now have extra counseling help thanks to a collaborative effort between three school districts, the Piatt County Mental Health Center, Kirby Medical Center and the DeWitt-Piatt Bi-County Health District.

Louanna Miller, a licensed professional counselor, started working in Bement last Friday and in Monticello and DeLand-Weldon this week.

“We are excited about these partnerships and how it will positively impact students’ wellness within our communities,” said PCMHC Director Tony Kirkman.

In Monticello, Superintendent Vic Zimmerman said Miller will be able to concentrate on non-IEP (Individualized Education Program) work that keeps current counselors busy.

“We kind of see this person as an additional social worker. That’s the type of work they would do,” said Zimmerman, noting the current school social workers also speak in classrooms and provide individual counseling, but that IEP work is their first task.

“(The new counselor) would do some grief counseling, possibly individual counseling, and going into classrooms to talk about situations kids may find themselves in,” he added.

For two years, the program will be provided at no cost for participating school districts. At that point, if they choose to continue, schools would pay 25 percent of the overall cost in year three, 50 percent in year four, and so on.

Zimmerman said the first cost to Monticello would be about $5,500 for 2021-22. The share would be less in other districts, since they will have the extra counselor on staff one day per week versus two days in Monticello schools.

The idea was proposed last May, with Kirkman saying the Illinois Youth Survey showed participating organizations the need for additional social workers in schools. He pointed out the survey stated 20 percent of high school sophomores and seniors who took part in the survey considered suicide.

“The bottom line to me is, one in five is not acceptable,” Kirkman told the Bement school board on May 8.

“I think this idea also stems from the Kirby Community Health Needs Survey, and the number one issue that continues to come out of that survey has been mental health. Not just kids, but adults, and the lack of resources we have,” said Monticello School Board President Gary Huisinga.

“This is a great collaboration,” he stated at the Aug. 21 school board session.