The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 30, 2012

Joplin students receive free online access to counselors, school officials

By Emily Younker

JOPLIN, Mo. — A new partnership between Ozark Center and Joplin School District means that students with concerns or personal issues can confidentially seek help from a counselor or school official.

Joplin students now have round-the-clock access to an Ozark Center counselor by texting “help” to a number they have been given or by sending a message through The services, provided by SchoolMessenger’s Talk About It program, are free to students.

All messages can remain anonymous, if the students choose, said Vicky Mieseler, vice president of clinical services for Ozark Center, which is the behavioral health division of Freeman Health System.

Mieseler said teenagers and adolescents in Joplin were a population that Ozark Center wanted to target to ensure they were getting the help they needed following the May 2011 tornado.

“There are these children who are not children anymore, and yet they’re not adults, either, so we needed to plan something for them that made services more accessible to them,” she said. “The whole focus for us is to get information from our kids to the people who need it in a safe way.”

Mieseler said Ozark Center counselors can also use the service in reverse to provide information to students about mental health, such as tips to reduce stress.

Students will also be able to use the hot line to contact principals or counselors within their own school, said Brandon Eggleston, principal of North Middle School. He said the program should be particularly beneficial to students who might not be comfortable visiting their school’s administrative offices for help with problems related to homework, school stresses or issues with friends.

“There’s a sense of comfort for them, I think, when it’s not face to face,” he said. “It allows us to maybe open up that communication to where we’re maybe meeting face to face.”

Eggleston said the program started at North Middle School just before Thanksgiving, and teachers have now devoted two class periods to how it works and how it should be used. He said each student at the middle school has a user name and password for the Talk About It site.

“Anytime you can give students another opportunity to talk with us and to share their problems, their successes, anything they have with an adult — anytime you can make that more accessible, it’s good and it’s a positive thing for our school,” he said.

Mieseler said she plans to ask Joplin-area private schools if they would like to join the program.

The Talk About It site, launched in 2005 in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina, was designed to provide an anonymous and confidential way for children and teens to voice their concerns.

“When disaster strikes, it’s difficult for some students to feel normal as the world around them is struggling with the challenges of recovering and rebuilding,” Carter B. Myers, co-developer of Talk About It, said in a statement. “We understand that for many at that age, meeting face to face with an adult or asking for assistance carries a stigma. By allowing them to step forward anonymously, using their communication tools of choice, they can speak up virtually, ask for help and learn about the variety of services available to them.”

Planned expansion

Vicky Mieseler, vice president of clinical services for Ozark Center, said she plans to expand the program to the Lafayette House and eventually to the community in general.