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Statue of Mary on UD's campus viewed form a downward angle with a blue sky, clouds and a lush treetop behind it.

University's program for school children expands to Hamilton, Clermont counties

A University of Dayton program providing counseling, education and social work services to Catholic schools is expanding beyond the Miami Valley and into Owensville and the Mt. Carmel neighborhood of Cincinnati.

"We've seen an increase in student needs since the pandemic, which has impacted the general growth and the social-emotional capabilities of our students," said Stephanie Woodall, principal at St. Veronica School, one of two new schools in UD's Empowering Children with Hope and Opportunity (ECHO) program. "Last year, we saw our students and families regularly sought support from our staff and administration. They need more, someone looking out for them, invested in them as individuals, a school and a community. We wanted to find a counselor who would be able to establish a foundation with our students, build on it and help them grow. That led us to ECHO."

ECHO, a program in UD's Center for Catholic Education, focuses on addressing or removing non-academic barriers to education, including poverty and abuse, among other challenging situations and circumstances. By providing services directly in schools, students and their families don't have to navigate finding an available therapist in their health insurance network, if they even have health insurance, or take the student away from valuable learning hours in school to receive care.

In 2022, ECHO served more than 3,700 students in 18 Catholic schools across western Ohio, from Sidney to Middletown.

According to Rhonda Mercs, ECHO director, children missed important developmental experiences during the pandemic, such as engaging and learning with others in a classroom. Mercs also said students are increasingly engaging in self-harm and suicidal ideation.

"There's a national emergency for child and adolescent mental health," Mercs said. "All the schools are seeing it — whether they are Catholic or public, or high- or low-income areas. They are referring to outside services, but therapists are unavailable due to full caseloads, and families are waiting weeks or months before getting help.

"Teachers and principals are dealing with issues they don't know how to handle and they need support; that's where we come in."


News and Communications Staff