The Feb. 28 issue of The Journal Times featured a story on the Racine Unfiied School District’s efforts to establish mental health clinics in two elementary schools in a pilot program. This is a partnership initiative between RUSD, several community organizations, and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Services are provided by a licensed clinical social worker. Initial results are positive and have improved the lives of particular students and classrooms themselves. It is funded with soft money, but the hope is to continue the efforts to help children with mental health needs.
RUSD is also one of only 12 school districts in the country, the first cohort, to be involved in the SHAPE System, the School Health Assessment and Performance Evaluation System, which is a free, interactive system designed to improve school mental health accountability, excellence, and sustainability. SHAPE is part of the National Quality Initiative (NQI) of the Center for School Mental Health (CSMH) at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, and the national School-Based Health Alliance (SBHA) which seeks to strengthen mental health services in schools. Representatives from RUSD have been trained in this system. According to the SHAPE website (https://theshapesystem.com), the SHAPE System can be used in multiple ways to: increase opportunities for local, state and federal grant funding; access free resources to advance school mental health quality and initiatives; and advance a data-driven mental health process within RUSD.
Also important is the opportunity, through SHAPE, to engage in the first National School Mental Health Census. By participating in the Census, RUSD is seizing the opportunity to obtain customized reports and resources that can assist in the improvement of mental health services for children in schools. The Census is designed for and seeks input from all Racine stakeholders in children’s mental health — district and school administrators, teachers, parents, community agencies, and those with mental health challenges.
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The in-school clinics and the SHAPE National Census are both excellent, forward thinking, and systemic efforts to improve the mental health of RUSD students and, by extension, school climate, creating a healthier learning environment. With the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine estimating (2009) that 13 to 20 percent of children in the United States experience mental disorder in any given year, these are critical initiatives to support.
But there is a third and important support that RUSD has provided for many years and which also deserves significant notice. RUSD provides mental health support to students through its many school social workers, school psychologists, and school counselors. Ideally, both of the above initiatives collaboratively include these school-employed professionals.
School social workers are school-employed mental health providers who work with children in schools to reduce intrapersonal, familial, and environmental barriers to learning. They are champions of social justice and educational equity. School social workers are masters level professionals licensed (LSSW) by the Wisconsin Department of Education. Many also have their clinical license (LCSW) through the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing. They understand the school environment and take an ecological approach to problem solving, looking at the whole child at home, in school, and in the community, and they ably secure resources to address critical issues. They are formally trained to assist students and their families, support teachers and administrators, assess systems, and work in a collaborative fashion with colleagues and administrators.
During the week of March 6-12, National School Social Work Week was observed. Administrators, teachers, and parents, please celebrate this important RUSD professional by letting him or her know in some way that you value their services.
Judith Kullas Shine, MSW, MS, LSSW, LCSW is president of the American Council for School Social Work.