The Tahoma School District received a grant from King County called “Best Starts for Kids,” to hire two new mental health coordinators for the middle schools.
The Best Starts for Kids Grant is a voter-approved initiative led by King County Executive Dow Constantine to help every child in King County stay on a path toward lifelong success, according to the county’s website.
According to Dawn Wakeley, executive director of teaching and learning in the Tahoma School District, the grant is centered around what’s called “SBIRT,” which stands for screening, brief intervention and referral to.
She said this is a screening tool that brings extra help to students in need of it.
The first step is to have kids take a questionnaire — if their parents give permission — that will show their strengths and weaknesses based on how they answer the questions.
“I think (the questionnaire) gives us additional insight into what’s happening for a student. There’s some really nice questions in the screener that not only are asking about struggles for the student, but also about where they have strengths,”Wakeley explained.
The student’s responses get processed via a mental health screener called Check Yourself.
The program then turns the answers into a report for school officials that identify various flags for the students.
Those flags include: green — little to no concern, yellow — moderate concern and red — we need to look at those answers and potentially identify those students as priority, Wakeley explained.
She said along with the flagging, a risk factor will also been shown for the student.
The higher the risk, the higher the priority.
Once a student has completed the questionnaire and it has been evaluated, that’s when the new mental health and wellness coordinators come into play.
Gwendolyn Huete , the new Mental Health and Wellness coordinator at Summit Trails Middle School, said her role is to screen students and provide them with a brief intervention that consists of one to five sessions, she said.
Wakeley said the goal is to engage in conversation with the student and to try and understand what is going on. She also said they try to understand what their interests might be.
Once Huete has had her intervention(s) with the student, she then refers them to any services they may need to continue down the road to success.
Depending on the student and how much of a risk they may be at, Wakeley said Huete can refer the student to something that she thinks might interest them, such as playing a sport, or can refer the student to a counselor outside of the school if she thinks that is best.
“The report that comes out really is a stepping stone to our counselors being able to engage in a conversation with students helping to highlight not only those areas of struggle, but the area of strengths so that we’re able to build on the strong points that the student has to help them,” Wakeley explained.
The screening program is still in the beginning stages, Wakeley added.
Huete said she started screening and speaking with kids starting in November 2018, and said so far it’s been a success.
“So far it’s been great. Just to be able to have a service available dedicated to meet with students individually for one to five sessions is very valuable and this program is very interest and strength based. Research says if they have a goal, if they’re hopeful about the future, that should help prevent drug abuse and having education early should also help them strategize before they get to high school. So I’ve found it very successful so far just because it focuses on the strengths of the students,” Huete explained.
Since this is still so new, Wakeley said this year is an “opt-in” strategy.
Meaning the school sends out permission forms to parents in order to screen the student.
Soon though, Wakeley said they will have an opt-out strategy, once the school starts doing more universal screenings of bigger groups of students who will be screened.
Huete said this should start in April.
So, if a parent does not want their student to participate in the group screening, they can say no.
The idea, according to Wakeley, is to start small with a few students and then move onto the next phase of larger group.
“One of our main goals is to reduce stigma associated with mental health and just be an advocate to promoting mental health and wellness and for way for students to take care of their minds as well as their body and other ways that the mind is just as important. I think we’re excited mostly about that,” Huete said.