(Forsyth County, GA) In nearly every survey of its kind, Forsyth County is cited as the most affluent county in Georgia. Yet, the county’s wealth does not keep many residents, including children, from society’s ills.
The variety of issues students, especially those in high school, face today was addressed this week by Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden during the April 12 Forsyth County School Board work session. Bearden spoke to board members about the hardships the students, and schools, are dealing with daily.
“The kids are under a lot of stress during the pandemic, including vaping, alcohol and drugs,” said Bearden. “We have 53,500 students in the system and the reality is some kids don’t know where they are going to sleep, and I’m not talking just a handful,” he said.
In a lengthy interview with NewsBreak, Forsyth County Student Support Director Dr. Kimberly Bennett confirmed Bearden’s statement.
“We currently have 729 homeless students, and we’re seeing an uptick,” she said.
Bennett said the school district works with community partners, such as The Place of Forsyth County and Browns Bridge Church, to offer support for those who don’t have a home. According to its website, The Place of Forsyth was founded in 1975 by four Dominican nuns. Forty years later, The Place provides the community with financial assistance, clothing, food, and educational opportunities. The group also works with Focus on Forsyth, which helps needy households through school referrals.
“If the children don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they can’t focus on their education,” Bennett said.
She said some schools have food pantries, and the system has a homeless liaison to help the children further.
Homelessness, however, is not the only issue the school system has dealt with during the pandemic. School offici
als have noticed an increase in drug and alcohol abuse. Also, during the past two years, as with adults, the pandemic has taken a toll on students’ mental health.
“People are now anxious, and we’re trying to help them,” Bennett said. “We have student advocacy specialists in our eight high schools that help monitor children from when they enter our education to when they leave.”
Bennett said a mental health coordinator even helps students after they graduate.
The Forsyth County school system has added training and expertise to help battle the pandemic’s effects. In addition, the system has added teen mental health specialists to deal with issues facing the county’s teens.
“Teachers have said if they had just had this information, they could have further aided the students,” Bennett added.
Forsyth County Schools is also the only district in the state to provide mindfulness training.
“It helps students focus on the present and self-regulate what you can control,” she said.
If you can get a student to focus on the present, Bennett added that you’re more equipped to deal with any suicidal tendencies.
According to the CDC, in 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34.
Through the variety of programs offered in the schools and community, Bennett said connectivity is the key to helping students and adults.
“We’re not here to judge; we’re here to help,” said Bennett.
If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact John Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org