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Meet Tracy Sills, PECS’ new dean, mental health and behavioral support specialist

Tracy Sills (courtesy photo)

BRIGHTON — After 22 years as a counselor, teacher and coach at Okeechobee High School (OHS), Tracy Sills was ready for a change. She joined the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School staff as dean and mental health and behavioral support specialist at the start of the school year.

One of her duties is to oversee the implementation of Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness And Resiliency Through Education), which focuses on prevention and early detection of mental health issues. During the program, students learn resiliency as well as social and emotional skills during weekly activities.

The program for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students is designed to be developmentally appropriate for their age. The program for grades one through eight focuses on social emotional learning. Through activities, the students get to know themselves, show feelings and emotions, set goals, increase self-esteem and become aware of mental health.

Sills has been working with the Project AWARE project managers and facilitators to get the program going in school this year. Last year the program was held virtually, as was the rest of the PECS curriculum.

“Being out of school for a year and a half, it’s hard for adults and is taking a toll on young people,” Sills said. “Through the program we will address the feelings of coming back to school again. A lot of them have been at home not doing the things they would have been doing if they came to school every day.”

Sills sits in on Project AWARE meetings and some of the classes. If behavior issues are seen that can be helped through new programs, Sills is prepared to implement them. Examples may include small group and individual counseling for targeted areas. Grief issues may also be addressed for those who might need that support.

“If we see behavior issues, we can troubleshoot anything that comes up,” Sills said.

Sills and the school’s new counselor, Dreama Brewer, will take recommendations from teachers and decide what kind of counseling groups would be beneficial to the students.

For now, Sills has been getting to know the students as well as their names.

“Once you have a rapport with them, it’s easier for them to open up to you,” Sills said. “It makes all the difference if you can address a child by their name; they know they are important.”

The new job isn’t too different from some of Sills’ previous experience. As a high school counselor, she dealt with mental health and behavioral issues in small groups and individual sessions to help students learn to change their behavior.

Since many Seminole students attend and have attended OHS, Sills has experience working with tribal members. Indeed, some of her former students now have children of their own at PECS.

Aside from its size, some of the differences between PECS and OHS include the amount of support and resources.

“There is a sense of community and extended support that you get,” Sills said. “As part of the tribe, there are a lot of stakeholders who are closely involved. The Brighton community is a small group and such a close knit community. Since we are a small school and part of the tribal community, we have resources and support. In the public school system, their hands are tied a little more. It’s harder to get the support you need.”

Sills is also happy with the change from older students to younger ones.

“I’m loving it here,” she said. “It was a big change from working at the high school level, but I’m enjoying the opportunity to see the elementary and middle school kids. It’s been a real plus.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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