Area schools are beginning to take action to address mental health needs in schools.
A dozen clinicians and some school personnel took three days out of their schedules this week to begin training for a program aimed at addressing childhood trauma.
The Cognitive Behavioral Intervention Therapy for Schools program originated in New Orleans after administrators saw a need to address an influx of trauma among students following Hurricane Katrina, said Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative Director Ashley Godwin.
This fall, the program is going to be implemented in Dickson Middle School and Lone Grove Primary School.
“We are finally starting to get movement in the right direction. And truly addressing the issue, not just the symptoms of it,” said Lighthouse Children’s Program Director Kimberly Miller, who attended the training Tuesday.
Schools in New Orleans already had licensed counselors within their buildings to help implement the program, but many schools in the Carter County area do not have that luxury, Godwin said.
Because of this, Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers, the Carter County Health Department and the Community Children’s Shelter formed a partnership that enables them to place specialists in the two pilot schools once a week for about an hour.
“Our organizations in our community being willing to partner to make this happen is huge for us,” Godwin said.
Training helps these individuals learn how to implement programs that will help provide children with the tools they need to cope with and address traumatic experiences, Godwin said. And helps them recognize symptoms of trauma among students, as well.
Dickson Middle School and Lone Grove Primary School will begin screening kids for the CBITS program in September, Godwin said. After obtaining parental consent, group sessions — and individual sessions as needed — will be held from October to March.
While in these sessions, children will create stories and drawings, play games and read books they can relate to and will learn how to name their feelings, Godwin said.
“They’re really aiming at helping kids learn how to cope with things that may have happened to them or might still be happening to them,” Godwin said. “So we’re giving them some tools to help them process and understand these experiences.”
Godwin said the goal is for schools to see similar results as New Orleans schools were seeing after they began implementing the program. Some of the primary results were an increase in attendance and an increase in student participation.
Such developments are expected as soon as 10 weeks after the program has ended, Miller said. “This community needs to see results. We can’t just talk about it anymore, it’s time that there’s action. So this is really a hands-on modality where we’re going to see positive outcomes quickly.”
Within those 10 weeks children will hopefully have already processed the trauma, gained new problem solving skills and gained the ability to digest trauma so that they can focus on school, said CCHD Psychological Clinician for Child Guidance Autumn Cooper.
Cooper also attended the training on Tuesday.
Dickson Middle School and Lone Grove Primary School have both had an influx of trauma within their school systems, and administrators are particularly hoping to address a sense of loss and grief at the middle school, Godwin said.
Being able to implement the program at a primary school also gives area schools the unique opportunity to target trauma earlier on, Cooper said.
“The earlier that we intervene the better, because the brain can accept that a little bit better,” Cooper said. “If you don’t feel safe, you cannot learn.”
There are several long-term benefits associated with addressing trauma at a young age, Cooper said. “If we give children the ability to cope with some of these stressors then they’re going to learn better, they’re going to be better employees, they’re going to be better at developing social skills.”
And the community as a whole benefits when there is an influx of productive, active members in a society, Miller said.
By the following school year, Godwin said she hopes to double, or even triple, the amount of students the program is serving. Part of that process is going to be for school districts to remain open to trying something new, Miller said.
“My hope also is that other school districts, other communities, keep their eyes and ears open to see the positive results of this and to be open to saying, ‘Hey, we haven’t ever tried this before, let’s try this’,” Miller said.