Mindful strides

normanridderBoosting academics through behavioral health

WHO: Dr. Norman Ridder, Supt.

WHERE: Springfield, Missouri School District

WHAT: Collaborating with Burrell

Behavioral Health to secure grant funding that will measure the effect of enhancing mental-health services on improving academics

Norman Ridder has seen a host of programs that promise enhanced academic outcomes over the course of his 33 years in public education. But few measure up, he says, to the benefits of strengthening mental-health services to boost academic achievement.

“The school-based mental health program has one of the highest returns on investment I have seen in my educational career,” says Ridder, superintendent of the Springfield School District.

Ridder’s 24,000-student district and Springfield’s Burrell Behavioral Health Center collaborated to apply for $4.5 million in federal grant funding— $1.5 million annually for three years—to consider effects of on-site behavioral-health services for troubled, low achieving or at-risk students.

Mental-health professionals, employed by Burrell, are placed within schools in a unique blending of education and behavioral-health cultures to benefit students of Springfield. Initial outcomes are impressive and include statistically significant reductions in student absenteeism; drug, alcohol and tobacco related incidents; and, disorderly conduct and disciplinary incidents.

A small but statistically significant increase in grade-point average for students receiving services is also noteworthy. By breaking down barriers between emotional well-being and education, the Springfield Schools/Burrell program delivers services to students when and where they are needed—before problems become more serious. Burrell’s school-based behavioral-health clinicians provide therapy, consultation with school staff and case management for students who exhibit low achievement, poor attendance or emotional issues.

All referrals are made through school counselors, with parent permission mandated after the first meeting. Not only has Springfield’s program inspired Ridder and his staff, it has also roused state legislators to consider funding these services throughout the state, and Governor Matt Blunt has included funding for school-based mental health in his 2008 budget. The key to program success, stresses Ridder, is that school-based clinicians are professionals employed by a behavioral -health agency that is separate and apart from schools in employment status.

“They’re the experts. We’re not,” adds Ridder of Burrell school-based clinicians. “These are such experts that parents and staff treasure them. It’s a very non-threatening program that works.”

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