Expanded School Mental Health case managers are the heartbeat of the program. They are jack-of-all-trades, supportive counselors, group facilitators, therapy coordinators, collaborators, planners, agency liaisons, and more. Ripley Middle School in Jackson County and Blennerhassett Middle School in Wood County have seen their ESMH case managers in action and are currently rolling into their second year with Expanded School Mental Health, and they’re just getting started.
Building ESMH programs from the ground up is akin to building a school-based community. Jalyn Kerby of Wood County said, “Blennerhassett has been incredibly welcoming and has always treated me like their own staff. I have been included in the yearbook and staff activities, was allowed to customize a private office, and was able to help with the last day of school Bobcat Bash.”
Students are facing complex issues at home and at school. In Jackson County, Ashley Johnson states, “These kids are often raised in foster care by grandparents, aunts/uncles, or have had a really hard life so far. Most of the time they aren’t sure who to reach out to or where to turn in school or at home. Extending that hand and collaborating with the schools to give the help these students need when struggling while also partnering with other services at Westbrook and our community helps to provide guardians and parents with additional resources.”
When asked about their experience as ESMH case managers, Ashley and Jalyn had a lot of progress on which to reflect. The opportunity to find additional mentors within the school staff, navigating and eliminating barriers to services, and encountering new situations every day were just some of the highlights Ashley and Jalyn identified. “The biggest highlight is watching your clients grow and become healthier, better versions of themselves.” Ashley said, “I have the privilege of seeing students get better, do better, and be able to be happy, but I still get to be there for their bad days. The most rewarding thing is seeing the progress students make.” Jalyn states, “The students are often excited to learn about coping skills or discuss issues that they face in school and how they can handle them.”
ESMH helps students build coping skills and capacity to stay at school throughout the school day, rather than skipping school. Jalyn stated, “Throughout the year, the improvement (of the students) was drastic and they learned to verbally communicate feelings rather than lash out. Now they recognize when they are becoming angry or upset and go to our ESMH office or “cool down zone” and discuss their feelings and practice positive coping skills. They still have days when it is hard to calm down, but usually they can finish the day at school rather than go home early.”
ESMH is building community partnerships and teaching healthy coping skills that will last a lifetime. Keeping kids in school, decreasing barriers to treatment, and fostering positive outcomes are just a few of the promising results being seen in Jackson County and Wood County with Expanded School Mental Health.