CHILL Helps Kids Cope With Life’s Problems

Good one of CHILLIt’s tough for kids to do their best in school when they’re shouldering overwhelming sadness, anxiety, worry and anger. And a growing number of children are.

That’s the reason for CHILL (Community Help & Intervention in Life’s Lesson) which provides mental health professionals at Winter Park High School and its 11 elementary and middle feeder schools. The program reached more than 1,100 students in the 2014-15 school year

Founded in 1998 by the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) in partnership with  the 12 Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) serving Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville, CHILL provides free, confidential, in-school counseling to students and their families. It is part of a collection of school-based health and wellness services supported by WPHF called the Coordinated Youth Initiative (CYI). Other services include nurses, nurse practitioners in school-based health centers, and healthy school teams.

All services included in this WPHF legacy program are based on the belief Healthy Kids Make Better Students.

During the 2014-2015 school year, CHILL provided one on one and/or group counseling sessions for 1,116 students. (This included 727 elementary students, 193 middle school students and 196 high school students and represented more than 10 percent of students in the 12 schools.)  About 41 percent were referred to the program by a parent, another 27 percent were referred by a teacher, 11 percent by a guidance counselor, and 10 percent referred themselves.

The issues of most concern among students this year included dealing with feelings like sadness, anxiety and worry.  Other key issues—anger management, dealing with change—whether it is the loss of a loved one, family changes or moves–stress management and family issues.

CHILL counselors also are providing an increasing number of educational presentations for students, teachers and parents. They reached nearly 42,000 students, 1,500 teachers and 2,500 parents in these sessions.

The counselors also intervened in crisis situations among all students as they developed during the school day. These rose from 797 incidents in the 2013-14 school year to 1,037 in the 2014-15 school year.

Aimee Jennings, CHILL Coordinator, also noted there was a 27 percent increase in the number of reports of suspected abuse or neglect counselors filed with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), and there was a 42% increase in the identification of students thought to be in danger of hurting themselves or others and had to be sent for a psychiatric exam as provided under Florida’s Baker Act.

School leaders say the program continues to have a big impact on their students.

“At Dommerich, school truly is an extension of home for students. A big part of this family-like culture stems from the impact of our CHILL program,” said Dr. Junella Kreil, Dommerich Principal. “The CHILL program reaches all students through classroom presentations, in which students learn why respect and caring for one another is so important. Parent presentations also have the benefit of reaching all children, as all parents are invited to several presentations each year that will help them support their child for a successful school and learning experience.”

“On a more individual level, our CHILL counselors are ready and available every day for emergency counseling, and they work with children one on one or in small groups daily. The CHILL program helps our school provide dedicated and deliberate social and emotional support for every child, in whatever level of support they need – this is what creates a family-like feeling; simply put, CHILL helps us care for the whole child, as a family and home should.”

And CHILL’s influence is continuing even after students graduate. Ms. Jennings said she already has learned of one former CHILL participant who now has a master’s degree in counseling as a result of her experience with the program. And there are a couple of other CHILL alumni who are in community college and seeking guidance on how to get a counseling degree.

“The foundation is proud CHILL has now been around long enough for a generation of local children to have grown up with access to the free counseling services at school. We know it has helped them realize the impact emotional health can have on school performance and all areas of life,” said Debbie Watson, WPHF Vice President. “As we had hoped, CHILL has normalized emotional health services, and helped students understand seeking counseling support for emotional pain is no different than getting health care for a physical challenge.”

“Most importantly, we hope our students will remember what they have learned and rely on these new skills to help them through rough patches throughout their lives,” she said.