Blount County Schools is the state's benchmark for behavioral health programs.
County Coordinated School Health Coordinator Mary Beth Blevins won the
inaugural Award for Excellence in the Area of School Counseling,
Psychological and Social Services, which was presented by the Tennessee
Department of Education's Office of Coordinated School Health. The state
recognized Blevins's "instrumental" role in the development of
community partnerships that resulted in additional programs and services
for Blount County's students.
"I'm honored and humbled to receive this inaugural award on behalf of
our school district," she said. "We set this benchmark as a result of
our leadership team, including (Blount County) Director of Schools Rob
Britt and the (Blount County) Board of Education, investing in and
possessing the vision to remove these nonacademic barriers to
learning. "Many other people also invested in our district's initiatives
and programs. Our school counselors, our school nurses, our SROs, our
teachers, our families, our community partners."
In collaboration with Cherokee Health Systems, Blevins developed a
school-based counseling program that is available for all students
needing care regardless of their ability to pay. Tennessee CSH
Coordinator Sara Smith advises it serves as a "state best practices
model." Cherokee Health Systems, which is a federally qualified health
center, provides services to all students regardless of their ability to
pay. Its in-kind donation for the past school year was $147,132.
To date, the corporation has assisted more than 720 students and
provided more than 5,600 sessions. It was piloted during the 2010-11
school year, then implemented in high schools for the 2011-12 school
year, middle schools for the 2012-13 school year and elementary schools
for the 2013-14 school year. The counseling program is in response to
the district's evaluation of its earlier efficacy, Blevins said. "The
Blount County Mental Health Consortium determined that it was too
complex and reached a point where things stopped. We found a six-week to
six-month waiting period at that time for behavioral health services.
We recognized that something needed to change and started a mental
health team in Blount County Schools composed of behavioral health
providers, community members, the Family Resource Center, school
counselors and teachers."
Employees are asked now to identify students who they believe are
in need of behavioral services and refer them to school counselors, she
said. School counselors discuss perceived issues with students and make
contact with parents/guardians of students who express an interest in
the services. If a parent/guardian approves their student receiving
services, the counselor contacts Cherokee Health Systems, which
establishes communications with the family. Medical professionals attend
to students at their home schools, Blevins said. School counselors
attach student schedules to referrals and work with students to reduce
academic disruptions. Officials avoid academic areas, if possible, and
never schedule sessions for the same academic class in consecutive
In addition to the counseling program, the district also offers
Mental Health 101 to Heritage High and William Blount High. Mental
Health Association of East Tennessee provides the program at no
cost. "We already covered nutrition and physical activity in wellness,"
Blevins said. "As a faculty and staff, we discovered a need to educate
students about coping skills for stress and how to recognize whether an
issue requires attention."
Blevins facilitated Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children program
for community parents and staff. The evidence-informed prevention
solution addresses child sexual abuse and practical prevention
training. She also provided all elementary school counselors with the
Michigan Model for Health, which offers sequential lesson plans for
every grade level. The comprehensive, skills-based health curriculum's
goal is to help young people live happier, healthier lives.
The supervisor further secured grant funding to complete
LifeSkills training, which aims to prevent substance abuse and violence
by targeting the major psychological and social factors behind the
behaviors. Daily/teen living teachers offer the program to sixth-
through eighth-graders. She is a certified suicide prevention trainer as
well. She has led Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training at two
Blount County schools — Fairview Elementary and Rockford Elementary —
and presented the same information at a statewide conference.
Blevins has advanced bullying prevention education and helped
coordinate area assemblies, featuring Nashville band Spencer's Own, that
educated middle-schoolers about bullying. She also participates on the
UpLift Planning Committee, which focuses on providing stress reduction
for staff and students during exam time. Blevins, who serves on the
Blount County Community Health Initiative's Mental Health Awareness and
Suicide Prevention Alliance Executive Committee, also partnered with
HOSA members to educate high-schoolers about healthy relationships and
provide resources for students dealing with unhealthy relationships. She
said all of these efforts boil down to one thing: student needs. "We
really care about students and their families. We want our students to
have a happy, healthy childhood that leads into a happy, healthy
adolescence. We want them to be prepared for a happy, healthy
By Matthew Stewart -The Daily Times