Beyond the books


April 29, 2024

Michele King, Charlotte Latin’s first director of student support and wellness

Charlotte Latin puts mental health at the forefront with the hiring of the school’s first director of student support and wellness.

by Ken Garfield

When the school day begins each weekday morning at Charlotte Latin, Michele King and her team get busy. Not so much literally as figuratively, they are looking for the student who has suddenly shed his or her group of friends. The honor roll fixture whose A’s and B’s have fallen to D’s and F’s. The athlete whose energy level isn’t what it used to be.

At schools across the region, where the pressures of modern life prey on adolescents, teachers and staff are constantly seeking out that struggling young soul.  As Charlotte Latin’s first director of student support and wellness, it’s more than a full-time job for King. It’s a calling: to look beyond academics to the mental and emotional well-being of the 1,500 students in Grades TK-12. To grow a culture in which students support their friends in seeking help when needed. To hear a cry for help even if a child or teenager is too frightened to cry out loud. “By building in students an understanding that, as humans, we are better able to be our best with support from meaningful relationships around us, then they see that encouraging a friend to get help or walking a friend to the counselor’s office would not seem unusual,” King says.

King, who began work Jan. 3, spent 22 years with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. Her focus there was on student wellness. She maintains N.C. licenses in clinical social work, school social work and school counseling. At Charlotte Latin, she is working to bring a holistic approach to what is already being done by counselors, nurses and learning-resources staff, the latter helping with skill-building for students in areas like executive functioning and dyslexia.

King will coordinate wellness efforts, whether it’s organizing a book study or engaging with student clubs like Project Happiness, which provides uplifting moments such as bringing goats to campus during final exams to lighten the mood. She’ll study statistics and trends, including as it relates to adolescents and suicide. She’ll work with faculty, coaches and other staff, fine-tuning their antenna: The first-grader who visits the school nurse for frequent stomach aches. The 11th-grader who suddenly is eating alone in the cafeteria. It’s up to all of us to see them. And to act.

She will also serve on the independent school’s crisis team. The reality of having to worry about entrances and exits is enough to send a chill up a school’s collective spine. School, now, must be about more than passing chemistry.

“We believe that students thrive when our commitment to academic excellence is matched by the actions we take to support our students’ comprehensive well-being,” Head of School Chuck Baldecchi said when announcing King’s hiring.

We know what weighs heavy upon a student’s mind: Peer pressure. Academic pressure. Bullying. The lure of drugs and alcohol. A broken home. A broken romance that feels like the end of the world, and sometimes is for an emotionally distraught youngster. Not getting in or falling out of the social group of choice. Waking up at 7 on a Monday morning, already overwhelmed by what the day (and the day after) might bring.

Now take all of it and have it exposed to your world on social media. As King puts it, “If everyone knows I’m interested in XYZ Ivy League school and I don’t get in…” Or “My friends were invited to this party and I wasn’t…”

“There is no getting around our students being exposed to and engaged in various digital platforms,” King says. “It’s important that we engage with our students, faculty and parents in educational opportunities and important conversations about how to navigate these experiences in ways that are healthy, balanced and informed.”

Acknowledging the challenge, Charlotte Latin planned to bring author Devorah Heitner to campus in April to talk with parents and students separately about her book, Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World. How can a student grow up safe and sound in a world where nearly every moment of their lives is shared and compared? Heitner poses that question on her website. Upon the answer lies the health of our sons and daughters.

The last word goes to Heather Bonner. Sean and Heather Bonner’s son, Sean Jr., had a positive experience at Charlotte Latin. He was captain of the baseball team. He was named Quiet Leadership Athlete of the Year as a senior. He went off to Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where he majored in economics and pitched on the baseball team. In November 2018 of his junior year, Sean took his life. He was 20. In his memory, the Bonners founded the nonprofit Mission 34 to encourage adolescents to share what’s on their hearts. They hope that what their son’s alma mater has done will help shatter the stigma around mental health.

“We need to teach them at a young age to talk about these things,” Heather says. “I’m glad Charlotte Latin has put somebody in place to oversee well-being.”

At the school of 1,500 students off Providence Road in south Charlotte, the focus is on more than reading, writing and arithmetic.  SP

Ken Garfield is a freelance writer and editor in Charlotte who helps families prepare obituaries and charitable causes tell their stories. Reach him at

Featured photo: photograph courtesy Charlotte Latin


  • In the United States, one in six youth ages 6 to 17 experiences a mental-health disorder each year (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
  • In 2021 in the United States, suicide was the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 19 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • NAMI Charlotte (National Alliance on Mental Illness) offers programs and support for youth, families and caregivers, including on suicide prevention. Speakers are available for faith, business, school and civic groups. Find details at
  • Heather and Sean Bonner, whose son, Sean Jr., took his life at age 20, founded Mission 34 in his memory. The Charlotte-based nonprofit works to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health. No. 34 was the number on his baseball jersey.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 or 988 (Suicide & Crisis Lifeline) or go to the nearest emergency center.


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