During most of Dan Porter’s 15 years working for Northeast Metro 916 as a social worker, there has been something of an elephant in the room. Students increasingly have been turning to substance use to cope with stressors in their lives — be it their own mental illness, histories of trauma, or the curiosity, boredom, and peer pressure that comes with adolescence. Because so many of our students have disabilities or mental illness, it can make the recovery process complex and challenging.
The need for services that address chemical health – a less judgmental term that refers to addiction and substance abuse – has been on the rise nationally. Beginning this school year, 916 is partnering with Canvas Health to prevent, treat, and support students who are struggling with their chemical health right here at school. “Breaking down barriers to getting treatment is really important,” said Dan Naidicz, executive director of programs at the school district. “Bringing chemical health services closer to our students will not only enhance their lives at home and in the community, it will improve their educational outcomes as well.”
The services start by targeting the teachers, educational assistants, social workers, and other adults in their school community. Four courses can accommodate up to 200 staff from 916 and the 14 member school districts whose students attend 916 programs. The courses, dubbed “Listen and Learn,” train staff to recognize student chemical health needs and provide intervention. Participants will also gain a better understanding of the interaction between mental health and chemical health. The courses kick off on Monday, Oct. 8, and registration is booming.
When it comes to students, making sure they never get involved in substance use in the first place is key. Canvas Health staff are available to present to students in the classroom about chemical health or any other health-related topic that may be of interest, because they know that developing healthy habits is crucial to building a toolkit of alternative ways to cope with the stressors of being a teenager. They also hold weekly support groups at Bellaire Education Center (grades 6-8) and Quora High School (9-12+) for students who have family members who struggle with their own chemical health.
For students who have already have chemical health needs, 916 and Canvas Health offer one-on-one outpatient substance abuse treatment in Bellaire and Quora — the same buildings where they take classes or play basketball with their friends. For students who need even more support, group treatment sessions at Bellaire fill that need. Students from Quora receive transportation to Bellaire and back to access the service, so they don’t need to worry about getting a ride. “It is really unique that we get to meet students where they already are,” said Denise Schmidt, one of the therapists who provides the services. “We are in their space, and we learn from them as much as they learn from us.”
Students with the most complex or persistent needs may be referred to an outside organization like the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, an organization with which 916 has a longstanding relationship. In this case Canvas Health staff are still available to help connect students and families to those care options and assist them in navigating the complex world of healthcare, even when families lack health insurance, transportation or other means of accessing that care.
They think these efforts will work in part because this is the first time that chemical health therapists have been able to directly collaborate with teachers, education assistants, social workers, and other adults in students’ lives. “Everyone sees students in a different light, and it is critical that we are able to get a whole picture of each student,” said Sara Greenbaum, another therapist who provides services. “It makes a huge difference.”
This new program is one of the innovation grant projects that are being implemented and partially funded through a grant that intermediate school districts received in 2016.
-Story courtesy of District 916