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As federal funds expire, Chatham County Schools provides mental health care for students

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Across the country, the pandemic highlighted and exacerbated mental health challenges — particularly among youth.

In response, many states and school districts prioritized putting federal COVID-19 dollars toward mental health initiatives. More than half of North Carolina districts and charter schools collectively spent nearly $45.9 million on psychologists and mental/physical health personnel, according to a December report from FutureEd.

Ahead of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER III) funding cliff in the fall, it is unclear how many districts can continue to offer such services. At the same time, the number of children aged 3-17 receiving a diagnosis of depression or anxiety increased by 49% over the past several years, according to the 2023 NC Child Health Report Card.

Amid these challenges, Chatham County Schools recently announced a partnership to provide teletherapy programs at no cost to all of its K-12 students. The district is working with California-based Daybreak Health, the “leading provider of school-based mental health services.”

“Access to high-quality mental care in North Carolina remains a significant barrier for children and their families,” the district said in a press release. “Chatham County Schools wanted to increase their capacity to serve more students and families with mental health support and ensure that all students had equitable access to these services. This new teletherapy program will enable them to do that.”

Daybreak Health works with more than 80 districts across eight states, according to company data. In North Carolina, Daybreak Health also partners with Guilford County Schools and the Alamance-Burlington School System.

In Chatham, the district contracted with Daybreak through June 2025, according to spokesperson John Wood, for a total of $72,000. The district is using federal Title-IV funds, which Wood said “can be used for the comprehension needs of students, and for activities that support safe and healthy students.”

“We are dedicated to supporting the holistic well-being of our students through Daybreak Health treatment programs and our new partnership, ensuring essential mental health services are readily available to benefit our students and strengthen the connection between school and home care,” said Chatham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony D. Jackson.

How it works

Since launching the program in February 2024, about 100 students have been referred to Daybreak’s teletherapy. Daybreak officially launched in 2020.

“Our mission is to create a world where every youth has access to mental health supports that they need to thrive and achieve their potential,” said Sid Cidambi, Daybreak Health’s co-founder and chief operating officer. “The way that we do that is through partnering with school districts. … We really want to empower students to be able to get the supports that they need.”

Through the partnership, Chatham students can receive up to 12 weeks of teletherapy sessions with Daybreak’s clinicians. Sessions involving elementary-aged students are designed to include the student’s parent or guardian. Students 10 and older can opt to meet one-on-one with their therapist.

When kids are mentally healthy, they can think clearly, pay better attention, and learn new skills. These evidence-based teletherapy programs have proven to positively impact academic outcomes like behavioral improvements, better grades, and higher attendance. The program is designed to treat students to a place of concrete improvement –symptomatically, functionally, and behaviorally. Students are matched with a clinician based on their cultural background, language, and personal preferences, with sessions starting within 1-2 weeks of a referral — which includes parental consent and is offered at no cost to families. 

Chatham County Schools press release on partnership

Based on student needs, teletherapy sessions can take place during school hours, or after school.

“We are working closely with families, so if it needs to happen during the school day, it can,” said Dr. Breanna Ellington, district student services and 504 coordinator. “We’re not going to meet a student’s need to access the service if that is the only time that works because of other barriers.”

Here is how the Daybreak intake process works, according to the company’s website:

  • A school staff member refers a student to Daybreak’s services using a short intake form. Schools are also advertising the program to make sure students and families know about the opportunity.
  • An intake coordinator meets with each student or family to assess their needs and preferences regarding teletherapy.
  • Daybreak’s matches the student with “the right therapist for them.” Daybreak has more than 150 clinicians on their team, Cidambi said.
  • Daybreak manages communication and coordination between school staff, Daybreak clinicians, and parents/guardians to schedule appointments and check-ins.

We treat a broad range of student mental health needs including anxiety, depression, grief, stress, trauma, and more. Teens who are at the highest risk of experiencing mental health challenges include youth who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, low income, and are living in rural areas, experiencing homelessness, and/or part of immigrant households. We have subprograms designed to meet their needs.

Daybreak’s clinicians specialize across 26 different mental health conditions and 13 modalities of care, speak 10 languages, 74% report as BIPOC, and 14% report as members of the LGTBQIA+ community.

Daybreak Health’s website

School-based mental health an ‘unparalleled opportunity’

In March 2023, North Carolina released a School Behavioral Action Plan, published by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

“North Carolina’s youth are facing an urgent mental health crisis,” the report said. “Many youth do not have access to needed behavioral health supports.”

Among other things, that report found schools play a critical role in supporting students, particularly for students who otherwise would not access behavioral health prevention and treatment programs.

Youth are six times more likely to complete evidence-based treatment that is offered in schools, the report found, compared to other community settings. The report specifically cites school based telehealth as one strategy to “strengthen school connections to community-based services.”

“School-based mental health is an ‘unparalleled opportunity’ to reach children in need,” the report said. “However, limited funding and staffing limit the ability of schools to address student mental health challenges, which are more severe in rural areas.”

D‍aybreak’s Cidambi said the company believes in using telehealth and in-person therapy together, and offers in-person sessions in several states. However, he said teletherapy is crucial to expanding access to mental health services.

First, he said, telehealth expands access for people living in areas with a shortage of mental health clinicians, particularly in rural regions. Second, telehealth meets students where they are, and helps mitigate barriers of transportation and limited time. Finally, he said, teletherapy broadens the pool of clinicians students can meet with, which is important for students with diverse needs.

“We really believe in culturally responsive care, which really means matching students with a therapist, where for background reasons or for linguistic reasons, they’re going to be a good match for them,” Cidambi said. “Because if they’re going to be a good match for them, then then the therapeutic alliance will be better, and if the therapeutic alliance will be better than the clinical impact will be stronger.”

This is fantastic! Mental health absolutely matters!

This is amazing for Chatham County students!!! ❤️

An awesome opportunity for our students and families!


Thank you for forming this partnership!!!! It’s so important!

Comments under Chatham County Schools’ Facebook post announcing its partnership with Daybreak Health.

According to Daybreak’s clinical and survey data, students who participate in teletherapy sessions show improved grades and increased levels of attendance.

Based on clinical screeners for depression and anxiety, 81% of participating students show symptomatic improvements, per Daybreak data. Nearly 92% of surveyed parents report improved symptoms at home, and 8 in 10 school staff report more positive behavior at school.

“We know that mental health and overall well-being is is critical for students success,” said Chatham’s Ellington. “So we’re hoping that by partnering with Daybreak, we’re really able to meet students needs in a way that we haven’t been able to thus far. And ultimately set them up for optimal success.”

To learn more about Chatham County Schools mental health services, reach out to Breanna Ellington at or 919-548-4597.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.