Healers & Builders 2021: LCPS mental health director Amy Himelright counsels district

Miranda Cyr
Las Cruces Sun-News
Amy Himelright is director of mental health and academic counseling at Las Cruces Public Schools. Pictured Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories on Healers and Builders, citizens who will heal, safeguard and push forward the greater Las Cruces area in 2021. 

LAS CRUCES - After 24 years of working in the school district, Amy Himelright has put a new emphasis on support and self-care amid the pandemic.

As director of mental health and academic counseling at Las Cruces Public Schools, Himelright, 46, has spent her career guiding students and staff through behavioral health issues. With the pandemic turning education upside down in March 2020 and many of her colleagues working from home, Himelright knew she had to be extra attentive to staff and student needs.

"The pandemic really challenged us as counselors and social workers in a way that we never could have anticipated," Himelright said. 

Himelright said that lack of separation between work and home or work and school can make time working seem like it never ends.

Aside from that, the way counselors and social workers connect with students is completely different because of online learning, which has been in effect at LCPS since March as a way to mitigate the spread of the SARS CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.

"One of the advantages of being a behavioral health provider in schools is that we had access to the kids every single day, and they had access to us every single day," Himelright said. "That just really helped us keep a strong pulse on how they were doing …. Suddenly, being physically separated from them, we had to adapt really quick. We couldn't stop our service delivery, they still needed us."

Himelright and the Mental Health and Academic Counseling Department at LCPS had to pivot to telehealth services and other online options, with which many of the staff had little to no experience.

"We had to adapt very quickly, but we did," Himelright said. "We've maintained contact with our students as much as possible, virtually, in a way that, really, I don't think we ever even imagined was possible."

Amy Himelright is director of mental health and academic counseling at Las Cruces Public Schools. Pictured Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.

Another option the district has been trying out during the pandemic is "knock and talks," as Himelright calls them. She explained that there are still students who aren't accounted for, or who might not be engaging in online learning at all, so these at-home visits involve behavioral health providers talking with the family outside of the home where they can be socially distanced.

"We're really trying to account for each and every kid — and there's about 24,000 of them in our community."

Statewide, about 6,270 students — or 2 percent of all students in the state — remained unaccounted for as of Dec. 30, meaning they were enrolled in public schools in spring 2020 but not in the fall. That number is down from 12,186 in mid-November, which is when the Public Education Department begin its outreach effort.

'Lean into others'

Himelright spends her day collaborating with and offering mentorship to behavioral health staff, talking with parents and students and providing training for teachers and administrators.

On top of this, she also helps her three high school-age children through their own online learning environment.

Himelright knows the importance of guiding her teenagers during this time. She said it was a big adjustment at first, but now all her children have been able to adapt to remote learning.

"I really make time intentionally for all of us as a family to disconnect from the online digital world and just connect in person with one another and get outside," Himelright said. "I can really relate to all those parents that are trying to work and also help their kids."

Between being an administrator and a mom working at home, Himelright makes sure to take time for herself and advises everyone to do the same.

"There were a couple of times where I really did kind of crash and burn," Himelright said. "I found myself really teary and really emotional and really agitated. I just had to really pay attention to those cues and ask for help. (I asked) my other behavioral health providers to take some of the hardest stuff that was coming up for a little while to give me a break."

LCPS offers Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and free counseling to all of its employees, including mental health providers. Himelright encourages staff and educators to take advantage of these opportunities, and she herself participates as well.

"When you're tired, rest. Lean into others for support."

Himelright said parents and staff should remember to be gentle with themselves during this time. She said it's okay that things are different now, and to remember that everyone is still adjusting.

Himelright hopes that the tools that have been used during this period of remote learning will continue to be remembered through the future of education. Resources like telehealth are useful not only during this time, but also for students who have more constrained schedules or who live in more rural areas.

"It became very evident that our community cares deeply about our children," Himelright said. "The community really did pull together in this pandemic to meet those needs of children, especially those food, clothes, technology (and) access to internet so that they could learn. I really believe and hope that those strong collaborations carry forward."

Read about more Healers and Builders in Las Cruces. Know of someone in the community who deserves similar recognition? Email us.

Miranda Cyr, a Report for America corps member, can be reached at or @mirandabcyr on Twitter. Show your support for the Report for America program at