MESA, AZ ( 3TV /CBS 5 ) -- The start of the new school year can mean extra stressors for many students.

Due to this, the Mesa Public Schools district is rolling out a new counselor program to help students with more than academics.

[WATCH: Mesa Public Schools aid mental health of students with new counseling program]

According to mental health advocates, East Valley students, in particular, have dealt with some of the highest suicide rates in Arizona.

“I’ve never, in my 25 years of working with teenagers, seen as much suicide as I’ve seen in the last three years," said suicide prevention advocate Katey McPherson.

The numbers are not only shocking but sad. Wendi Howe is getting a firsthand glimpse of that. Her kids are ages 9, 12 and 14.

“Our kids need help. They need more social-emotional help. There’s a lot of stress. There’s a lot of technology pressure,” Howe said.

Now, both McPherson and Howe are encouraged by something new.

“That ‘whole child’ approach, I think it’s fantastic,” said McPherson.

When she mentions the "whole child" approach, she is talking about counselors focusing on more than just the academic part of a child, but also mental health and social-emotional learning.

So, Mesa Public Schools decided to implement a new model for counselors.

“We hired 37 new counselors this year,” said Dr. Michael Garcia of Mesa Public Schools. “Mesa has really made counselors a priority.”

This new model aligns with the American School Counselor Association.

Dr. Garcia, who oversees counselors for the district, said this model can train counselors to collect data from each campus to tailor their tactics to students' needs.

“If bullying, for example, is a huge priority because our data shows bullying is a problem on our campus, then we should implement some pretty heavy interventions for bullying. On other campuses it might be vaping that’s an issue or harassment,” he said.

They hope that other districts will follow their lead as the East Valley tries to keep their kids healthy in every way.

Dr. Garcia said the new model also incorporates outside therapy and counseling agencies they can reference students and parents to if the problems become more than the school can handle.

He said right now the counselors are training and the changes will be fully in place in two years.

 


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