GUEST BLOG: The Power of Partnerships in Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child and Community — Lindy Douglas, Alexander Local Schools
By: Guest Blogger
As the superintendent of Alexander Local Schools, I am proud to tell you about our success providing students with wraparound services. Wraparound services are additional supports for students that help them meet their basic needs so they can focus and do well in school. The wraparound services offered in Alexander include mental health counseling and health care services. Some people may wonder if mental and physical health care have a place in school, but I firmly believe they do.
Alexander Local Schools is located in Athens County. It is a rural, Appalachian district. All the school buildings are located on a single campus. Unemployment, poverty and drug addiction affect many families in our schools. As superintendent, I became aware of the number of children who needed medical or counseling services. The teachers and I were running into situations where some children were not receiving proper medical attention. In many cases, it appeared the parents were not following through with planned appointments. Even when families recognized the need for these services, they still had to pull children out of school and travel to appointments. Parents worried about losing their jobs as a result of missing work to take their children for services. Some families did not have transportation or money for gas.
There are many challenges in our community, and I wanted to help address them. The other educators in my district and I began speaking with various agencies about how we could help families get the services and supports they needed. We decided to pilot a wraparound program by inviting one counselor from Hopewell Health Centers to put an office in our building for one year. We referred children to this counselor when they needed deeper, more intense counseling than what the school alone could offer. We worked with teachers and the counselor to build a positive rapport and buy-in with the staff, parents and community.
What began as a one-year pilot has grown. Our campus now houses offices for four different service agencies. Currently, we have Hopewell Health Centers, Health Recovery Services, Athens County Children Services and Holzer on our campus. We give them space in our buildings for free so they can provide their services to the children. We also meet with the agencies annually to talk about what is working and what needs improvement. We encourage them to build their clientele in our community. During the summer months, they can continue using our facilities.
These services have become a part of our school culture. Counselors are honorary staff members. They attend staff meetings, parent-teacher conferences and Intervention Assistance Team meetings. We embrace their knowledge and expertise. By providing services on our campus, we have seen improvements in our school and our community. The most significant improvements have been increased attendance and graduation rates, reduced behavioral issues and better scores on state tests.
Here are a few other benefits to implementing these programs on campus:
- Convenient primary care and preventative medical services are offered to district staff, students and the community.
- There is increased access to health care providers without the need to travel to a larger facility.
- We have streamlined care from a community health and specialty care perspective. This keeps students in the classroom and student athletes on the playing field.
- Students and families have an increased awareness of available services. Many may not have sought care otherwise.
- Student athletes receive athletic training support in partnership with Ohio University.
- The school’s ability to make direct referrals increases productivity and improves service agency caseloads.
- Barriers such as transportation, accessibility and parental time off work are eliminated.
- Having agencies on campus increases the attendance rate, and the agencies are experiencing fewer canceled appointments. Agencies are working closely with the district to meet insurance billing requirements.
- Support agencies report that partnering with the schools in some situations has helped them improve parental engagement.
- Being in the school building provides immediate access to communication with teachers and staff who see the students daily and often are the first to encounter behavioral issues. This helps the clinician take a comprehensive approach to treatment. Once a treatment plan is in place, educators and clinicians can monitor interventions and assess treatment success.
- Being part of the school reduces the stigma attached to seeing a counselor. Clinicians often wear school badges to help them blend in with school staff.
- The district has increased the number of professional counselors on staff.
- An outside agency can complete risk assessments for children who make threats. This allows for an immediate intervention.
- Students receive medical treatment immediately.
- We are able to provide free sports physicals and a staff doctor for the football and basketball teams.
The greatest benefit, and the thing that I am most proud of, is that we are now addressing the whole child. Addressing the whole child allows children to have necessary supports, enhances wellness and fosters learning and development. Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education, Each Child, Our Future, recognizes how critical it is to meet the basic needs of the whole child, and we are working hard to do just that. Thanks to partnerships built within our own community, our small district is making a big impact on each student and our community.
Lindy Douglas is the superintendent of Alexander Local Schools. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and master’s degree in Educational Administration from Ohio University. She has been an educator for 29 years, working in public schools in Southeastern Ohio to better the lives of children by increasing their knowledge and improving their education.