A one-year, state-funded mental health pilot program at Garden City USD 457 has so far helped over 100 students, representatives from the district and Compass Behavioral Health told the district’s Board of Education Monday, and they hope it will have a chance to continue through next school year.
Last year, USD 457 was one of six Kansas districts, three urban and three rural, selected for a state pilot program aimed at better connecting therapists and case managers to students that need them. Ultimately, said Assistant Superintendent Renee Scott, the district would like to get more schools involved.
“It costs a lot, but the whole focus is will the benefits truly pay off on decreasing drop-out rate, increasing graduation rate … Right now (it is) this year, but we keep getting hints that pending funding, we might get another year,” Scott said.
In Garden City, that program has become the Mindful Student Support Program, a partnership between the district and Compass at five of the districts’ schools: Alta Brown, Florence Wilson and Georgia Matthews elementary schools, Horace Good Middle School and the Therapeutic Educational Program/Alternative Education Center.
The program, active for the 2018-19 school year, brings four therapists to the schools on certain days to provide private, on-site counseling for selected students. Those students are primarily children in need of care, including foster children, but also those with behavioral issues, said Sarah Stucky, a mental health liaison between the district and Compass.
Nine case managers assigned to certain students also may hold sessions during school, though Compass also did this before the program, said Compass Regional Director Megan Garcia.
As of this week, Garden City’s program has provided services to 111 students, Stucky said, about one-quarter of which are foster children. The program also held about 817 counseling or case management sessions over more than 680 hours, Garcia said. And the program is still taking in more students.
Partially because of the district’s size and existing relationship with Compass, USD 457’s program began seeing students shortly after the first week of school and was the first of the six districts to begin providing care, Scott said.
One of the selected districts, Wichita USD 259, is serving a handful of students in each building, Stucky said.
Other districts have not yet hired clinicians or seen students, Garcia said.
As for local results, liaisons have been reviewing reports, checking in with teachers and observing classrooms to see if students are responding to the treatment, Stucky said. The process is slow, she said, but there has been progress.
“A lot of teachers we’ve noticed there’s less attention-seeking behaviors. They’re using some of those coping skills. So, there’s little hints here and there, but not that huge before and after,” Stucky said.
The program was effective from a mental health standpoint because it broke down barriers to access, Garcia said.
Teachers can help Compass staff identify and treat students that they might not have seen otherwise, parents can learn about benefits of counseling they may have not considered before and stigmas surrounding mental health can be slowly dismantled, Garcia said. Plus, students can receive helpful care without missing too much class.
And teachers have worked with therapists, too, asking for new ways to work with certain students, Stucky and Garcia said.
“What I really appreciate is the school staff’s willingness to be a part of it and learn. They want feedback from Compass on how they can better help students,” Stucky said.
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