Sussex County educators share school experience

Mental health a concern at Cape, Sussex Tech and Milford
November 22, 2017

Educators attending a Southern Delaware Alliance on Racial Justice forum on Oct. 10 agreed today’s students deal with major mental health issues.

“Whether it's trauma-induced mental health because of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, things that are occurring at the home which then influence a student, we make sure we offer mental health services for them so they can continue to learn,” said Nikki Miller, principal of Cape High.

“It's very difficult to learn when you've been in a situation at home that is unsafe, and then come to school and be expected to do what is needed to do when you're thinking about what happened.”

Miller said partnering with parents is important. Often, she said, there are parents who haven't had a good relationship with school.

“Maybe they had a bad experience. Maybe they were in prison. That's an institution. School is also an institution. We're trying bridge that gap and get parents to feel comfortable and trust us so we can work together,” she said.

Bill Collick, dean of students for Cape High, said he has seen an improvement in Cape's school climate in the eight years he has been at Cape after leaving Sussex Tech.

“We created higher expectations of daily interaction with kids and parents,” he said.

John Demby, principal of Sussex Tech, who also serves as acting co-superintendent for Sussex Tech School District, drew a comparison between mental health and prescription drug abuse. “The root to a lot of the mental health issues is prescription drugs,” he said.

He said children have access to pills in their parents' medicine cabinets, which they mix into lethal cocktails.

“The pills are easily accessible,” he said. “We try to deter children from using prescription drugs.”

Demby said Sussex Tech staff also works to create a partnership with parents so that students succeed.

“There is a direct correlation between students going to school and being successful in school or becoming delinquent and getting into the judicial system,” he said, adding his charge is to keep as many students as he can in school and out of the judicial system.

Jason Peel, human resources and school climate director for Milford School District, said Milford provides counselors, and partners with health professionals at People’s Place, a mental health facility in Milford.

“Mental health is a big challenge that we are all facing,” he said. “There's no doubt that the need is there. The challenge is how do we meet the need and get the services to the students in a timely manner so it doesn't spiral out of control.”

Peel said he believes a new hospital in Milford will help provide mental health services for students in addition to services offered by the school wellness center.

Charlotte King asked educators about diversity in the teaching ranks and what they are doing to attract more nonwhite teachers to their schools.

Miller said Cape partners with Delaware State University to bring more diversity to the school. They are working out details to bring more student teachers to Cape High.

“We've been attending recruitment seminars to get diversity into our schools,” she said.

Demby said teacher diversity is important for students, and he shared discussions he had with Collick when Collick worked at Sussex Tech. Demby said Collick impressed upon him the importance of diversity, and Collick's words have stayed with him ever since.

“He said all students need to see you because too many times people see the opposite example of what you and I are,” Demby said. “From that moment our relationship and work began to soar at Sussex Tech.”

In 2007, Demby said, the graduating class at Sussex Tech had four African-American boys. Two of them were biracial, he added.

By 2012, he said, Sussex Tech erased the achievement gap, and black males that year outperformed white males on the state achievement tests. “I'm very proud of that,” he said.

Lewes resident Trina Brown-Hicks said she remembers taking vo-tech classes when she was in high school, and she benefited from exposure to vocational trades. “That helped develop who I am,” she said.

Sussex Tech leadership changed at the end of the 2017 school year following an audit over construction spending. On June 29, Sussex Tech school board named both Demby and Supervisor of Support Services John Sell as co-acting superintendents for Sussex Tech School District. Superintendent A.J. Lathbury Jr., Assistant Superintendent Curt Bunting and Business Director Ed Seibert were suspended with pay. Lathbury and Bunting remain suspended with pay; Seibert was reinstated as business director in September.

Demby did not discuss administrative changes, but despite those changes, he said, students have thrived. “Students are future minded,” he said.


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