DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — A Danville elementary school principal called in the cavalry to help with a growing classroom challenge. Mark Denman Elementary, not far from Garfield Park in the northeastern portion of the city, generally has about 90 students in need of social and emotional support during the school day in a given year, principal Stacie Sollars said. This year, that number grew by more than two dozen.
31 Kindergarten through fourth-grade students need more intensive counseling sessions, Sollars said.
“Eight of those students have experienced a loss in their family, either of a parent or a sibling to murder,” she said. “Not all gun violence, but some very traumatic experiences.”
Another five children experienced another form of trauma, including abuse outside of school, and 18 of the 31 suffer from sensory sensitivities or developmental disabilities that require additional intervention.
“We’re just seeing some heightened things,” Sollars said.
She’s worked at several Danville schools as a teacher, assistant principal, and now principal at Mark Denman Elementary. Additional counseling and emotional support services would be beneficial at all of the schools, Sollars said, acknowledging a greater need at her current school and the largest K-4 facility in the city.
“We see a lot of just overwhelmingly strong emotions, that maybe anger or sadness, and you know, we don’t know what they’re coming into the school with from their morning or their weekends,” she continued.
Sollars listed out a number of volunteers, employees and organizations that assist on a regular basis, “but we really could use some more intensified training for our staff and some more intensified counseling or therapies for kiddos that have the higher needs,” Sollars added.
“We normally run with two full-time social workers and a psychologist, and we are down to one social worker.”
Danville superintendent Dr. Alicia Geddis saw it for herself. She made the visit after Sollars expressed her concerns at an early September Board of Education meeting.
“The day I happened to visit, she had five children, what we call children who run, five ‘runners’ and three ‘screamers,'” Dr. Geddis shared with the board at last week’s meeting.
“They were screaming from 8:30 until I left at 1230.”
“We have some kids with some sensory type issues that whenever they get overstimulated, their fight or flight kicks in. And so they tend to run out of the classroom. So trying to maintain that and keep them safe,” Sollars explained in an interview with WCIA 3 Monday. “So she was able to witness that.”
Geddis called to discuss a solution the following day, she added.
By last week, the school board of education unanimously approved a nearly $140,000 plan to be provided by mental health non-profit Gateway Family Services, including one-on-one, group and other classroom-wide supports.
“I still love all my buildings. And they all have their challenges. Mark Denman is a bit unique,” Geddis said during the joint presentation with Sollars.
“Once we get everybody in a well state of mind and in a peaceful place we are able to educate our kids even better,” the principal said.
“I’m just gonna say the price tag seems high,” board president Dr. Randal Ashton said. “But I understand so that’s why this is one that I’ll look at at the end of the year and go okay, ‘How did this go?'”
Geddis said she plans to visit all of the district’s schools. Gateway already provides social-emotional services at Northridge Middle School.
An exact start date for Mark Denman Elementary hasn’t been put on the calendar yet, but Sollars said staff have visited the school a couple of times.
CHECK OUT THE FULL PLAN BELOW AS PRESENTED TO THE SCHOOL BOARD: