Reaching Out At Washington Elementary

Student Smiling in the Middle of the Crowd of Students

Dr. Beth Hudson, Associate Superintendent, and Jennifer Black, principal at Washington Elementary, met two years ago with Pawnee Mental Health Services representatives to discuss how the agency could collaborate to better support students and schools. The idea of providing therapy in the school was one suggestion. Pawnee felt they could help and in late Spring 2017 piloted a program at Washington Elementary. This program has continued to grow during the Fall of 2017.

The program works like this: if a parent is seeking mental health services for their child, options are presented to include Pawnee Mental Health Services. It is explained that the agency is willing to provide support in the building. To initiate services, the child must complete the intake process and one initial session to establish treatment plan goals at the Junction City Pawnee office. Through this process, it is mutually determined between Pawnee and the family, if the student’s needs require therapy. It is also determined if the child can be served in the school setting. If so, therapy services can begin in the school setting with Jenna Tripodi, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Pawnee. Depending on the student’s needs, they can be seen weekly or bi-weekly between 30-50 minutes, in a private setting provided by Washington Elementary School. Presently, services are provided in the school setting twice a week in four-hour blocks.

The student and teacher are aware of the schedule and Ms. Tripodi gets the student from class, provides therapy, and then the student is placed back in the classroom. To continue in services, parents are required to be available for a family session either in person or via phone, at least once every 90 days. This allows for consistent support and communication with the family. Parents are encouraged to communicate and engage as frequently as possible.

The benefits of this partnership are that students are regularly getting therapy services. Previously, students would have been picked up by the parent, the parent would miss work, and the student would miss more than an hour of school time. This resulted in families missing appointments and students missing a significant amount of school. The program has demonstrated that students make greater gains than compared to a conventional setting. It is believed that this is because students are attending services regularly. Students also get to practice new skills learned in services in the environment (school) in which they may be having some of their largest behavioral issues, thus making progress.

It is also believed that partnerships like this can work to reduce the stigma of mental health. Going to school is a natural part of a child’s life and going to therapy might not be. By merging the two agencies it is seen as just part of the student’s regular school day. As mental health needs arise and funding becomes more scarce, these partnerships will become more and more necessary. The challenges some of our children face would be daunting to most adults, the least that can be done is to provide support to help them through the trauma or internal mental conflict they maybe experiencing.

Article provided by Jennifer Black, Principal at Washington Elementary

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