Mort Elementary receives help in focusing on mental health of students in University Area community

TAMPA, Fla. - Mort Elementary on Bearrs Avenue in Tampa may look like any other school, but how many schools have a food bank where hungry families can stock up?

It’s called a Community Partnership School where companies and organizations help this public school help the kids.

"It levels the playing field for our students and families by providing them with services like healthcare, and dental care," said Kelly Snellgrove, the principal at Mort Elementary.

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But, the Snellgrove and others were concerned about the mental health of the school's students. Their neighborhood in the University Area of North Tampa is so transitional that it was once dubbed "Suitcase City" – there’s high unemployment and crime.

There are pressures that could even lead to suicide. Hillsborough County has a significantly higher than average rate of deaths by suicide among children, and kids at this school may be particularly at risk.

"There’s a lot of anxiety and a lot of behavioral issues that the children need help with," said Lourdes Gonzalez Anaya, a clinical counselor.

On top of that, 75% of the kids at Mort Elementary speak Spanish as their first language. The call went out for help and the call was answered.

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"When we found out there was a need for additional therapy we said ‘we can do that. We want to be part of this really special thing that’s happening at Mort Elementary,’" said Jennifer Sweet, the CEO of Aetna Better Health Florida.

Aetna, a CVS company, donated $20,000 to provide a full-time bilingual therapist for students. The counselor can also interact with Spanish-speaking parents who would otherwise not be able to afford such services.

The new mental health focus at Mort Elementary is the first of its kind in the state. Organizers hope it can become a model for other schools.