Newsletter for Lake County Schools Parents & Caregivers

Who are the Mental Health Professionals in Lake County schools?

Lake County Schools has built a strong presence of mental health professionals who work in collaboration to bring high-quality, evidence-based supports and services to all students. Our District Mental Health Specialists, School Mental Health Liaisons, Certified School Counselors, School Psychologists, Social Workers, and School Nurses are essential to the success of this plan and positive school outcomes.

If parents or caregivers have concerns regarding their student's well-being, they are encouraged to contact their mental liaison and/or school counselor at their child's school.

The Buddy Bench

Eustis Elementary School students will have an easier way to find a playground pal. Our school recently won a Buddy Bench from Premier Polysteel, a company based in Iowa that has been manufacturing plastic coated metal products since 1974. Learning to make friends is a vital part of growing up and essential to the social development. Students seeking a friend can sit on the bench and easily connect with other students who want to be a friend to them.

by Raelynn Poole, Mental Health Liaison, Eustis Elementary School

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School Nurses are Often the First Point of Contact with Anxious Students

“School nurses are often the first point of contact with anxious students. They have a fabulous reach and a role in schools that creates an opportunity to help these kids that’s been untapped.” – Dr. Golda Ginsburg, Ph.D. Psychiatry, UConn Health

Understanding Your Student “Frequent Flyer”

Students come to the nurse’s office for many reasons: illness, injury, or medications. Sometimes it’s to avoid that math quiz or because they just need a quiet place for a few minutes. But when a student is coming to the nurse frequently, especially with complaints of stomach ache, headache, fatigue, overall “not feeling well”, or general pain that are not due to a medical reason, it’s important to explore other reasons. Some non-medical reasons for a student to have frequent visits to the nurse could be: conflict with peers, bullying, learning difficulties, anxiety or depression.

The physical complaints may be real or the only way the child can explain how they're feeling. Anxiety over a long period of time can cause real physical distress and difficulty sleeping. A study done in the May, 2011 Journal of Pediatrics states that students that are bullied, as well as those who bully, tend to come to the school nurse more often than other students for complaints of illness and injury. Long term psychological stress can affect the immune system, which makes the body more likely to become sick.

When the school nurse is calling, it may not be for you to pick up your student, but to have a conversation about why your child may be coming to see her frequently and how to best help. Ask the nurse about your child’s visits and be aware of any signs that there may be more going on than just your child wanting to get out of class. Lake County Schools has many resources to help guide you and your child.

by Patty Buttram, BSN, RN, Lake County Schools District Health Educator

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Over the next three years, Lake County Schools employees will be trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid, a six-hour course that teaches participants how to help youth experiencing a mental health or substance abuse challenge. The training helps staff identify, understand and respond to signs of addiction and mental health challenges.

Parents who wish to be trained in youth mental health first aid are encouraged to reach out to their school-based mental health liaison and/or contact Be Free Lake at at or call 352-383-2099.

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Lake County Schools cares about the well-being of every student. We have partnered with Kognito At-Risk, a health simulation company, to train all faculty and staff on how to recognize, approach and refer students exhibiting distress to appropriate supports and services.
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Fostering Positive Student - Parent - Teacher Relationships to Increase Student Motivation

* Show your child that you respect his or her teacher and never handle disagreements with the teacher in front of your child.

* Create open communication with the teacher and work together to make sure your child learns good study skills.

* Help your child experience success and see that a task or activity is within their grasp can help to foster the desire to learn more.

* Develop a system to give reinforcements for working hard in school.

* Praise your children when they tackle something difficult! But remember to praise their effort, not their talent. Focus on talent actually makes kids less likely to persist when challenged. But praising children for effort makes them want to work harder.

by Ashley Mendez, Lake County Schools School Psychologist

Restorative Circles Break Barriers and Foster Collaboration

You might be wondering what is a restorative circle? It is a place where students are able to communicate their needs in a safe space with a teacher, administrator, or other peers. At Mount Dora High School, we utilize circles to get to know our students. It is important to seek understanding, listen, and then give feedback to affirm our students. Teachers are utilizing these restorative practices to break barriers and foster collaboration and a sense of community. Students gather their desks in a circle or stand. At MDHS, a teacher or student poses a question, which everyone will have the opportunity to answer. Students pass around a talking piece, and they only speak when they are holding the talking piece in their hand.

Just this one small gesture can change a classroom, a campus, and more importantly perceptions of others. It is important to be heard and seen as a person, not just another number in the crowd. Restorative circles can be utilized for bullying, conflicts, relationship building, and across content areas in the classroom. The possibilities are endless! IN this picture below I am conducting a Restorative circle that focuses on values and relationships building amongst students in the classroom.

by Dr. Clinkscales, Mental Health Liaison, Mount Dora High School


If your family is in a temporary or inadequate living situation due to a loss of housing, your child might be eligible for certain educational rights and services through a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Act. Under the McKinney-Vento Act, children in homeless situations have the right to:

· Go to school.

· Attend either the local school or the school of origin, if this is in their best interest.

· Receive transportation to and from the school of origin.

· Enroll in school immediately, even if missing records and documents normally required for enrollment (birth certificate, proof of residence, school records, and immunization/medical records.

· Enroll, attend classes, and participate fully in all school activities while the school gather records.

· Have access to the same programs and services that are available to all other students.

· Attend school with children not experiencing homelessness.

· Please call the FIT (Families In Transition) Office for additional questions. (352-742-6920)

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MHA surveyed 11-17 year olds who came to its Online Screening Program about what was stressing them out. Forty-eight percent of 11-17 year olds surveyed felt that they were “very” stressed out.

Here’s are the top 5 things that caused them stress:

  • Getting good grades (76%)
  • Preparing for the future (76%)
  • Loneliness (68%)
  • Body Appearance (62%)
  • Juggling Priorities (61%)

Stress is more common in children and teens than many realize, and can impact academics, sports and family life. While most kids and teens aren’t dealing with bills, difficult bosses, and frustrating commutes, there are plenty of situations that can cause them stress. When a teen’s stress starts impacting their sleep, when they seem to be getting physically sick more often, when they seem sad and withdrawn – it could be more than typical teen angst. While it’s also normal to feel lonely sometimes, when young people are lonely a lot, it can affect them many ways. Research shows that loneliness can translate to poor sleep, high blood pressure, greater risk of suicidal ideation, and even alcohol and drug use.

If a young person continues to feel overwhelmed, unable to cope and feel as though their stress or loneliness is affecting how they function every day, they may be experiencing the first signs of a mental health condition, like depression or anxiety.

"Half of all mental health disorders begin by the age of 14. About 75 percent begin by the age of 24. It’s important for parents, caregivers, and school personnel to know the signs that a young person is struggling with his or her mental health and be willing to help,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA. “While we can’t completely shield young people from all that life throws at them, we can help them learn to manage their emotions and reactions in ways that cultivate resilience.”

For some ideas on how to manage stress, click here:

OPMS Pocket of Peace

Oak Park Middle School had a vision to transform a distressed greenhouse into a pocket of peace. "There's quite a bit of research connecting gardens with positive mental health outcomes, especially with students who deal with a lot of stress, trauma, and attention difficulties", says Mental Health Liaison, Mark Wendt. The school received a Lowe's Toolbox grant to fund the project, and a local gardening club volunteered their services to restore the greenhouse. The school plans to combine mindfulness techniques through the greenhouse experience, an approach they have named as the Central Oak Park Experience (COPE).

by Mark Wendt, Mental Health Liaison, Oak Park Middle School

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Raising Awareness about Social Isolation

During the week of Sept. 23–27, some of our schools participated in Start with Hello Week to celebrate a culture of inclusion and connectedness. Staff and students were encouraged to reach out to and include those who may be dealing with chronic social isolation. Below is a flyer that was posted on the walls of Eustis High School.

School Counselors and Student Mental Health

Lake County Certified School Counselors are happy to be part of the district’s team of mental health professionals and will continue to work side by side with the Mental Health Specialists and Liaisons for the best possible care of every student.

According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), “School counselors are certified/licensed educators with a minimum of a master's degree in school counseling, making them uniquely qualified to address all students’ academic, career and social/emotional development needs by designing, implementing, evaluating and enhancing a comprehensive school counseling program that promotes and enhances student success. School counselors are employed in elementary, middle/junior high and high schools; in district supervisory positions; and counselor education positions.”

Because of this, school counselors are also a vital part of the staff who address student mental health issues and are often the first person to detect these and provide support, recognizing important warning signs. They recognize and respond to early behavioral prevention, early intervention and crisis services that result in psycho-social wellness and development for all students. “School counselors are prepared to address barriers and to assess ways to maximize students’ success in schools, communities and their family structure by offering education, prevention, and crisis and short-term intervention until the student is connected with available community resources” (ASCA, 2015).

If you are concerned about your child, please do not hesitate to contact your child’s school counselor to discuss and/or schedule an appointment. They are ready to assist you!

by Angela Ratter, Certified School Counselor & Program Specialist

Meet Dr. Kristine Landry, Director of Student Services

The mission of Lake County Schools Student Services is to provide quality services and support contributing to overall student success.

Parents may contact the Director of Student Services by calling 352-742-6920 or by sending an email to Diane Kuharske, Department Secretary at

Mental Health Liaisons

Mental Health Liaisons provide direct support to schools and serve in liaison role with various district departments to effectively manage and coordinate school-based mental health services.


Eustis Elementary School - Raelynn Poole

Eustis Heights Elementary School - Janet Martinez

Seminole Springs Elementary School - Sherry Thornton

Sorrento Elementary School - Stacy Pallitto

Triangle Elementary School - Tiffany Dickson

Umatilla Elementary School - Trey McDonald

Eustis Middle School - Becca Tussing

Mount Dora Middle School - Shena Randolph

Umatilla Middle School - Tiffany Sheckler

Eustis High School - Madison Holt

Mount Dora High School - Sharia Clinkscales

Umatilla High School - Sherry Cox


Astatula Elementary School - Destiny Lyals

Beverly Shores Elementary School - Samantha Bentley Ponder

Fruitland Park Elementary School - Nakia Doughty

Leesburg Elementary School - Amy Waldie

Rimes Early Learning Elementary School - Rachel Sigmon

Tavares Elementary School - Jennifer Flood

Treadway Elementary School - Stacy Fields

Villages Elementary School - Shannon Sapp

Carver Middle School - Kayla Durias

Oak Park Middle School - Mark Wendt

Tavares Middle School - Laura Wells

Leesburg High School - Kimberly Capstraw

Tavares High School - Charisa Watson

Lake Hills K-12 School - Melissa Walker

Lake Success Academy 6-12 - Derrick Sneed


Clermont Elementary School - Iraida Espada

Cypress Ridge Elementary School - Danielle Miller

Grassy Lake Elementary School - Bridgette Stinson

Groveland Elementary School - Allison Jones

Lost Lake Elementary School - Daniel Hansen

Pine Ridge Elementary School - Yvonne Milejczak

Sawgrass Bay Elementary School - Elsie Franqui

Clermont Middle School - Tahirah Patterson

East Ridge Middle School - Erica Cole

Gray Middle School - Sandi Webster

Windy Hill Middle School - Alisha Grill

East Ridge High School - Javon "JP" Linney

Lake Minneola High School - Jill Fornoles

South Lake High School - Justine Graeff

Lake County Schools District Mental Health Specialists

There are six District Mental Health Specialists, two per region. The Mental Health Specialists coordinate with the Director of Student Services for the provision of comprehensive mental health and related services for all students, and oversee, mentor, and train 42 school-based Mental Health Liaisons. The Mental Health Specialists can be reached at 352-742-6920.