Carbon Lehigh IU 21: Community-school networks assure safe schools and healthy students

Safe schools start with safe children. When their mental and emotional-social health needs are met, classrooms remain focused on learning.

However, addressing all those needs demands distinct specialties not always found in schools. The solution is partnering throughout the community to leverage resources, communicate across systems, and drive toward shared goals of safe, healthy children.

Carbon Lehigh IU 21 is one of three education organizations statewide awarded a Pennsylvania Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant through the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to help connect schools with scaffoldings of community support.

CLIU won the grant in partnership with Lehigh County Systems of Care, the county’s mental health hub. The initiative links schools and community services to strengthen screening, mental health services, family supports, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, and bullying prevention and school safety.

Under the initiative, CLIU is a resource for proven, evidence-based practices. Three particular initiatives have been in demand:

-        Help building Student Assistance Programs, required in all Pennsylvania schools to keep students in crisis on track academically.
-        Expansion of HOPE, the Lehigh Valley’s Heroin and Opioid Prevention Education initiative, through the Center for Humanistic Change.
-        Training in Aggression Replacement Training, an intensive practice teaching self-management skills to aggressive students.

In many cases, the goal is bridging cultures across schools and community services – for instance, co-training police and guidance counselors in Aggression Replacement Training “so when they’re deescalating a situation, they’re using a common language,” said Dr. Molly Flood, of CLIU. “It’s getting everyone to understand the systems and procedures in the mental health and educational realms so everyone’s working well together.”

Benefits include cost savings through fewer residential placements, and more classroom  time devoted to learning, instead of discipline. In one district’s elementary emotional support classrooms, incidents requiring physical restraints dropped dramatically, from 36 to seven in one year.

“We have expanded schools’ access to services in their communities, because they’re more aware of what they can tap into,” said Flood. “It’s a financial savings to be able to service students in their home districts, and it’s best for the community, parents, and students to have immediate access to these needed supports and services.”

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