Local elementary school uses $20,000 to hire special counselor

Posted at 6:13 PM, Feb 14, 2017
Mort Elementary School received $20,000 to hire a specially trained school counselor. Mental health counselor, Alicia Jiles, is there to listen to them.
"So, we do have a lot of children who see a lot of things that most children don't," said Principal Woodland Johnson.
He's talking about the University area of Tampa and numbers show these kids are exposed to a lot of crime in their neighborhoods. In just the first six months of 2015, there were 30 reported assaults, 22 robberies, 331 cases of thefts and two murders.
"Seriously needed is a great way to put it," said Johnson, "We really do need this position."
Jiles is better known as Mort's "success coach." Whether it's chalk or Legos she makes students feel comfortable.
"To have a safe space where they can come and just talk," she said.
Talk, heal and succeed: it's the simple goal in helping these kids exposed to difficult trauma at home and in their neighborhoods. While Mort Elementary isn't the first Tampa Bay school with a trauma care trained full-time counselor. It is still a unique situation.
"It's rare for a school to even have a part-time person that can focus on mental health" said Matt Spence with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Along with the Children's Home Society of Florida, they are responsible for Mort receiving this generous grant.
 97% of the school's student body is on free or reduced lunch and about 70 students are completely homeless.
"These are our future co-workers, these are future leaders of our community," said Spence.
That's why school leaders say hiring this counselor is an investment: addressing their community's  shortfalls while becoming a model for schools everywhere.