Iowa City NESTT center aims to address increase in students needing mental health help

Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 6:22 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa City High School Counselor Mary Peterson is seeing fewer students coming into her office for help these days.

“I’m not seeing the need as much from me because a lot of students who are experiencing stress and anxiety are experiencing it in the moment,” Peterson said.

Students are instead heading to the third floor to the NESTT Mental Health center, which stands for Navigating Emotions and Stress Through Training, to work through mental health issues they may be having.

“One of our aspects that we focus on as a school counselor is student social and emotional health, and just in the past year we’ve seen an increase in students that are experiencing anxiety, stress, and depression,” Peterson said.

That’s where this room comes in to help. Here students can come anytime they need mental health support.

“We’re seeing more and more students who are missing out on class, and having struggles with mental health and so just as we saw that build and build, we were thinking what are solutions we can have for this,” Thos Trefz, a family-student advocate at the school, said.

“They walk through the door. They meet with one of our social workers to, see what’s going on. Sometimes, it’s just they need to play with a fidget, color, or play with sand and just kind of get a reset before they go back to class,” Amy Kahle, the school’s other family-student advocate, said.

They are also connected to resources such as journaling, and mindfulness exercises, and work on specific goals and skills to use inside and outside of the room. Since opening in January, they’ve had over 300 contacts with students, and said it’s shown success.

“When students go back to class, they fill out an exit form and that’s how we are collecting our data,” Peterson said.

If the student needs more help than the school can offer, it connects them with outside resources. Peterson said it’s the first mental health center of it’s kind in the district.

“It’s really key to helping meet the needs of the 1,600 students that are in this building,” Peterson said.

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