By Sharieka Botex
Article printed by The Daily Reflector
Published: Thursday, June 22, 2017
Pitt County Schools for the next three years will work with two mental health care providers to deliver services including therapy and crisis intervention with the goal of helping student performance.
Travis Lewis, director of Community & Student Services, said Pride in North Carolina Inc. and Integrated Family Services were chosen from among five providers that have been working with the school system.
Prior to the 2014-2015 school year, students in need of mental health services could only access them outside of school, Lewis told Board of Education members during a work session on Monday.
“We would say OK, parent, work this out with your child through the LME (Local Management Entities),” Lewis said. “Try to find some sort of assistance so they can get treatment. Well, for a lot of families that’s very difficult. I think to be able to find that outside of school hours … it’s difficult for those students to get those needs met.”
Helping families address emotional, psychological and behavioral issues improves students’ ability to learn and succeed in school and makes for better learning environments for all students, Lewis said. The school system began working with five providers to determine which ones could best meet student needs.
The agencies were matched with various schools in the system, and personnel at the schools referred families to the providers. The providers bill Medicaid or the family’s private insurance, so there is no cost to the schools, Lewis said.
Pride in North Carolina Inc. and Integrated Family Services showed they were best able to accommodate the system’s needs, Lewis said. Other services considered were Family Wellness Center, Getting Ready Inc. and Uplift Comprehensive.
“We do not want to limit choice for families, so if they are not happy with the provider that’s assigned to that school, we can work that out however we need to, but ultimately we want to ensure access to care,” Lewis said. “That’s the main thing, to make sure there’s access available to those students at that school.”
The process starts with a referral possibly coming from a teacher, parent or student themselves, Lewis said. The agencies coordinate with school social workers and parents to determine if school-based mental health is needed, then work with therapists to schedule visits to the school and provide services. Nearly 200 students were referred for care last year systemwide.
Integrated Family Services was favored in part because it is able to provide mobile crisis services for all county schools, Lewis said. “If we have a student in any school that we feel like is a threat … to themselves or others, they will send a therapist to do an assessment at the school (and) work with the school to determine what we are going to do to work with the family,” he said.
Officials received the most positive feedback on Integrated and Pride in North Carolina, Lewis said. “Schools reported both agencies did a wonderful job. They were really pleased with these two agencies in particular.”
The school system is also looking at the provision of day treatment services at Pitt Academy Transition Center, an alternative program for students with disciplinary problems.
“They might be there for behavioral reasons, severe mental health issues that have come up … so they are going to need something more intensive than just school-based mental health,” Lewis said. “We are going to provide day treatment. Just providing instruction and not addressing the behavior that led them to be assigned to Pitt Academy and then we expect them to go back to their own school and be successful, I think that’s a little naive.”
The agencies also can help the schools screen students to detect underlying issues like substance abuse, trauma and other problems that could cause them to struggle. “Some of the students it’s pretty evident to us,” Lewis said. “Other students it may not be that evident, that’s where we might need some type of screening tool to help us realize.”
An annual review of goals set by Pitt County School Health Advisory Council revealed that proper hydration greatly benefited student health and wellness last year.
Members of the School Health Advisory Council at the work session said promoting adequate hydration was a major emphasis.
“There’s a lot of research out there about why it’s important for our students to be well hydrated and actually how that not only affects their health and weight, but it also affects their cognitive performance in school,” Terri Joyner, school nurse program manager, said. “If our kids are well hydrated they are going to do better.”
Joyner said the council went to principals and shared literature and data to encourage them to adopt policy within the schools to encourage students to make regular stops at the water fountain and even keep a water bottle at their desk.
The council is encouraging school sponsored water bottles, Joyner said. Placing educational tools and resources like posters about hydration are also a part of their efforts
“I can tell you a vast majority of what drops them in the school nurse’s office are problems because the kids aren’t hydrated: I’m dizzy, I don’t feel good, my stomach hurts,” Joyner said. “‘Well here, have a bottle of water,’ and it fixes most of those problems. … We have less kids going home from school.”
The council also updated board members on the student wellness policy, including the Returning to Learning post concussion protocol.
“What do we do to assist them … so they are coming back to the classrooms and learning,” Joyner said. “We used to worry a lot and we still worry a lot about returning to play and going back to athletics. We also need to be worried about cognitive ability and going back to the classroom.”
The council has put on an injury prevention clinic for sixth-graders that provides information about concussions, hydration, nutrition and medication, Joyner said.
“We wanted to get kids before they started being in organized school sports in seventh grade,” she said. Officials may have to rethink the clinic now that the schools are allowing sixth-graders to participate in sports.
Ron Butler, coordinator of athletics, expanded on the importance of raising awareness about concussions.
“When I got my first concussion in college, I didn’t know what was going on,” Butler said. “I had no idea what was going on; it wasn’t until weeks later that I discovered what I had gone through … We are probably going to continue with sixth graders and pilot the fifth graders.”