Rogers visits W.O. Lance Elementary

Published 4:36 pm Friday, January 18, 2019

LANETT — Mike Rogers, congressman for Alabama’s 3rd District, was in the Greater Valley Area Friday to visit one of the area’s leading resources for the younger generation’s mental health.

Since they opened their Wellness Clinic in 2018, W.O. Lance Elementary has been working with students to better identify and treat issues internally, utilizing the strengths of counselors and therapists. To get a feel for how it all worked and see the services that local students had access to, Rogers toured the school with Assistant Principal Allyson Matthews.

“One of the things we focus on [with students] is their learning barriers and what keeps them from reaching the same level as their peers or achieving and progressing at the same rate as other children across Alabama,” Matthews said before starting the school tour. “With the creation of the wellness clinic, the concept was to eliminate as much of that as possible. We have a mental health professional on campus here that can meet with them.”

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Rogers told Matthews that his visit was prompted after he learned of the Wellness Clinic. He said he feels mental health services are vital to his district and the country as a whole.

“It is an important topic, and we are putting a lot of money into the justice department to come up with solutions that the schools can draw off of,” he said to Matthews.

The topic of school safety was breached as well, with both administrators and Rogers noting on mental health’s role in school shootings and other tragedies that have happened within the last year.

“We are as upset as anybody about what’s going on and what’s happening,” Rogers said. “My kids are all grown now, but when I sent them off to school I didn’t want to worry about them being in danger. Nobody does.”

After a walk through the multicolored hallways and a look into a fifth-grade classroom, the tour arrived at the Wellness Clinic. Rogers took a moment to speak with the speech therapist Traci Proksa, nurse Belinda Reed and mental health therapist Holly Abbott in each of their facilities.

Each of the specialists spoke with Rogers on the approach they take with students.

“I recently started working with East Alabama Mental Health in September,” Abbott said. “They do things a little bit different in Alabama, and I think it is great that we are placed in the school systems because I know we serve a lot of kids. I think it’s very important.”

After speaking with Rogers, Abbott said she was excited about the visit and believed it served as an example of federal attention toward mental health in schools.

“We need that backing,” she said.

The tour of W.O. Lance concluded after Rogers spoke with students, saw their classrooms and was shown a taping of the morning announcements, which included information on his visit.

Matthews thanked him for being there and Rogers expressed how impressive he thought the Wellness Clinic was.

“This is above average from what I usually see,” he said. There are just not very many schools that are doing something like this. Congress is struggling now with what we can do to best enhance school safety across the country, particularly in high schools where we see these school shootings.”

“The fact is, you need mental health professionals in schools. You want your teachers to be focused on academic performance so you need professionals to that have specific training and experience that you can’t expect teachers to have.”