CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Around 1,000 school nurses, counselors, social workers, teachers, and more are gathering at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center on Thursday and Friday to better children’s health in the classroom.

The 16th annual school health and wellness conference called KidStrong got underway Thursday morning, hosted by the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE).

Allegra Kazemzadeh is the Coordinator in Office of Special Education for WVDE and said the event began as a professional development opportunity for school nurses but has now grown to serve many professionals with multiple educational tracks.

“There is school psychology, a track about substance abuse, one about trauma,” Kazemzadeh said about the educational tracks. “People have a specific interest they can follow those tracks or they can pick and choose the presentations they want to go to.”

School-based health groups and mental health agencies are also involved in the two-day event, that is welcoming school psychologists for the first time.

Kazemzadeh said school psychologists play as an important role as ever in a child’s health and wellness with the opioid crisis surrounding the state. She said the students are not causing their own trauma.

“What’s happening in kindergarten through 12th grade is that students are suffering from trauma because of the things going on around them,” she said. “For instance, a parent is a substance abuser.”

“More than anything, children right now need all of these social-emotional, mental health supports.”

The WVDE has launched a program for those social and emotional needs when it comes to the opioid epidemic called Reclaim West Virginia. The program is being talked about and learned about at KidStrong.

“We are trying to work with the various agencies and organizations that are out there like DHHR and many others because the schools can’t do it alone. There’s so much that needs to be done. Teachers, that is not what they went to school for. They teach content,” Kazemzadeh said.

Substance abuse is just one of the many tracks participants can choose from though, as the event got under Thursday morning with a plenary talk from Elaine Weiss, the National Coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education.

After the talk, learning tracks began that included school health, health education, afterschool and summer learning, family engagement, safe schools, physical activity, physical education, school counseling, mental health, substance abuse prevention, trauma, and school psychology.

To learn more about the conference, go to 2019kidstrongconference.com.