COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A local organization focusing on mental health is highlighting the importance of having specialists in schools.   

With several students returning to full in-person learning five days a week for the first time since March 2020, the Buckeye Ranch is partnering with several central Ohio school districts to put those mental health services directly into schools.

The idea is to meet the kids where they spend a good amount of their time.

Dr. Andrea Weisberger, the school liaison for Buckeye Ranch, anticipates some students will need extra support.

“Struggles with getting back into the routine, getting back into the structure of things,” she said. “I also anticipate a lot of anxiety.”

The Buckeye Ranch is entering a new partnership with Columbus City Schools which will allow clinicians to be in the building while school is in session. 

“To be a true partnership, as opposed to them just dipping in and out once in a while, seeing a kid for an hour, once a week, or something like that, they are a true partner,” Weisberger said. “Almost like a staff member within the school environment.” 

Cheryl Ward, executive director of Whole Child Supports, said roughly 25 school buildings are on the list for consideration. There is one student population she would like to see a focus put on.

“Middle school,” Ward said. “Young people are in these challenging and different times in terms of just their growth, their development, how they see the world,”

She says this is a chance for teachers, too.  

“In terms of recognizing signs, recognizing symptoms — being able to put them in a position where they can really be that first line,” Ward said.

Weisberger said the program is going to start small – two or four schools at a time — but hopes it will grow. 

“Really increase our ability to meet as many children as we can and provide those mental health services that they so desperately need,” she said. 

Right now, Ward says they’re looking at their list of schools and seeing where those mental health services will be most needed.