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Virginia aims to address mental health, behavioral challenges facing students

Crystal Graham
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The unprecedented rise in mental health and behavioral challenges facing Virginia students has prompted the Virginia Department of Education to create a new office to help youth who may be struggling since COVID-19.

The Office of Behavioral Health and Wellness will assist schools with a focus on the “Right Help, Right Now” resources available.

“Our students and our schools are facing different issues than they faced before the pandemic,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons. “We have redesigned several positions across the department to create the Office of Behavioral Health and Wellness. This office will bring a multifaceted approach to better equip educators, staff and parents in supporting our students and responding when a crisis occurs.”

Joseph Wharff, a professional educational administrator with more than 20 years of leadership in school services and school counseling with Henrico County Public Schools and VDOE, will serve as director of the new office. The Office of Behavioral Health and Wellness and the director will work directly with Coons.

The office will focus on three key areas:

  1. Behavioral health and instructional support: Focusing on issues regarding behavioral and mental health including school counseling, school discipline, the causes and impact of chronic absenteeism, and the effects on children and teens who rely on social media
  2. School health and wellness: Centering on issues such as opioid and drug use abatement, emphasizing the dangers of fentanyl and its spreading use amongst children and teens, and overdose prevention
  3. Student services: Dedicated to removing many of the wrap-around barriers to success facing children today, including working with military families and students in foster care, as well as equipping students for post-secondary access and success

The office will also develop the Virginia Behavioral Health Comprehensive Framework which is designed to assist in improving student outcomes through increased behavioral supports spanning between schools and communities.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.