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She Helps Bring Peace to Unquiet Minds

Shirleetra Roundtree may have found her dream job, but it’s not without challenge.

As the school mental health liaison for Tri-County Mental Health Services, Roundtree spends most of her time at the Golden Oaks Education Center operated by the North Kansas City School District. She does all her work in two rooms, including one decorated like a beach.

Roundtree helps students with mental health issues. In most cases, the students have had trouble in school, acting out or otherwise causing problems in the classroom. Some have been considered a danger to themselves or others. Before Roundtree, many would have faced suspension.

“Suspending them doesn’t solve the problem,” she said. “It just makes things worse. It doesn’t get to the root of the problem.“

Roundtree’s work usually begins when a student is referred by a North Kansas City teacher or counselor. She first contacts the parents to learn more about their concerns regarding the student. Other steps may include an Intake Assessment, individual and group therapy, and referrals to outside sources to help the student and/or the family.

One effort is fundamental: teaching students coping skills so they can better handle themselves. Formerly an art instructor, Roundtree saw firsthand how this can work. “I just started to notice how art would affect my students, especially painting,” she recalled. “When I started, I was afraid that some of the kids would act out and make a mess. It turned out to be the opposite. The kids were quiet and focused.”

She also noted that many of these students were talented and bright but often not doing well in school because of emotional or behavioral challenges. Roundtree was so struck by what she saw that she changed careers, earning a master’s degree in art therapy and counseling from Avila University. After working at Synergy Services for four years, she joined Tri-County in 2015.

The children she works with face a range of behavioral issues, from attention deficit/hyperactive disorder to anxiety, depression and what she calls “just being angry.” For nearly all, her priority is teaching them the skills they need to cope.

“I try to get them to see that therapy is in a lot of things,” she explained. “Playing a game or going outside can be therapy. It could be art therapy or getting on a computer and looking at YouTube videos. Or they may just need to talk. The main thing is to teach them that there are lots of ways to regulate themselves and calm down.”

Students stay with Roundtree for 45 minutes to an hour each day, and the results have been significant. The majority of students who come weekly for therapy have shown a decrease in negative behaviors at school and staff reports show they are receiving fewer write-ups.

“When you see that, it just makes you feel good,” she said. “You’re not just helping the student; you’re also helping staff.”

Roundtree has also heard from teachers and parents directly. “You realize the impact you’re having,” she concluded. “This is really my dream job. I’ve seen the kids’ behavior really improve. It’s amazing.”

Article courtesy of Dale Garrison of DGInform.com

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