Neosho R-5 School Board members heard from a former school board member and present mental health professional during a work session Tuesday.

Neosho R-5 School Board members heard from a former school board member and present mental health professional during a work session Tuesday.

Chris Parks, who did not seek to be reelected to the Neosho school board in April, made a callout to those gathered at the Neosho High School library Tuesday night for more awareness of how mental health issues and poverty affect graduation rates. Parks told the board that mental health issues contribute to at least half of the number of school dropouts.

"Twenty percent of all kids in the United States have, at some point in their life, a mental health issue," Parks said. "And it can be a singular event or an on-going, time-lapse problem. These problems can be for a variety of reasons — financial, environmental, personal and cultural. The most important thing about this is under-served children do not get these services about 75 percent of the time. We are an under-served community."

Parks said for Neosho, a community of around 10,000, there are only two clinical therapists in the region.
He said while many education professionals would say students have attention deficit disorder, many were misdiagnosed.

"A lot of these problems are stemming from home, having anxiety problems or mom and dad having a fight that morning, the dog dying, whatever problems may present themselves. Our kids are coming to school and if there are any of these problems, it affects them."

A 2005 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 60 percent of school absences were from anxiety related issues, including feeling unsafe at school or away from school, or depression, Parks said.

"I can attest from working with that daily, that's accurate," Parks said.

These factors lead to a dropout rate that is too high, Parks said. Board President Brett Day reported five students dropped out of Neosho schools in March alone.

"What if I could tell you that we could cut the dropout rate in half?" Parks asked. "If looking at dropout as a mental health issue, then for one thing, this district is underserved and we can help kids work through their problems to graduate. Secondly, if you are willing to do something about it, then we can cut it in half because we can provide the services that it takes to find the help that they need right here in this building."

Parks said Joplin schools has brought up graduation rates by seven percent by using a tier system.

Tier I is comprised of students who can advance with minimal supervision and guidance. These are students with more stable home lives, those who do their work and those who have goals and a sense of the future.

Tier II students may need assistance with necessities such as food or clothing, yet have good attendance and a desire to learn.

"That's probably the biggest bunch of kids in this city," he said.
Tier III are the dropouts.

"They're the ones that are in bad shape, they're the ones that are homeless, they're the ones that have little or no motivation," Parks said.

Parks proposed opening the school doors to agencies that provide services, such as Ozark Center, Lafayette House, churches and the like.

Parks said part of the reason the Joplin graduation rate increased was because of these alliances with service providers. These provided students with financial and moral support, keeping them in school.

"That's what I envision for here," Parks said.

He said teachers could be trained to spot abnormalities in behavior, such as an A student's grades slipping to Ds.

Students could be referred to therapists, he said.

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More on Tuesday's meeting can be found in Friday's Daily News.