Regional office of education looks to start a Bridge Academy to help students with mental health needs
The Regional Office of Education (ROE) for McLean, DeWitt, Logan and Livingston counties is seeking funding to start a program to help schools address students’ mental health needs.
School administrators say behavioral health concerns have only gotten worse during the pandemic.
Regional superintendent Mark Jontry said the office's proposed Bridge Academy would serve as a specialized school environment to help homebound junior high and high school students transition back to school.
“Certainly, the McLean County need is very elevated and so we feel like we would be fulling a need for our districts and our students and their families,” Jontry said during a virtual presentation to the McLean County Behavioral Health Coordinating Council (BHCC).
Jontry said school superintendents in McLean County who responded to a survey said nearly 40 students are homebound because of mental health problems. He suggested a majority of those were in District 87 and Unit 5 schools.
Jontry added the academy could also help students before they need mental health treatment.
“We feel like this program will serve as an option on both ends of the continuum of services for adolescents as they either transition – hopefully back into their districts from hospitalization or as we try to potentially mitigate the potential for that placement down the road,” Jontry said.
Students would be in the academy for a minimum of 30 school days. Their time could be scaled back to half days after that, but Jontry said the program will be highly individualized and students would still get academic instruction. He said the ROE is also working with mental health providers in McLean County who could provide therapy.
Jontry said the regional office aims to start the program for the 2022-23 school year. It will need about $1.2 million in the first two years but should be self-sustaining by year three through ongoing state funding and fees that schools would pay for the service, he said. The ROE is also exploring additional fees for students who have an individualized education program (IEP) or require before-or-afterschool services. The academy may also charge an additional fee for school districts outside McLean County that use the service.
According to Jontry’s presentation, eight of the 18 school superintendents who responded to the survey said they have had difficulty staffing homebound instruction. Those school leaders estimate they have about 180 homebound students currently.
The ROE is seeking state grants to cover part of the cost. It's not clear where the rest of the seed money could come from yet. The regional office has not yet identified a location for the academy, but Jontry said school superintendents in the regional office’s four-county service area support the concept.
New mental health supervisor
The ROE also added a new administrative role to address behavioral health needs in the classroom. Trisha Malott coordinated McLean County's mental health programs before joining the ROE.
Malott said the office is helping school superintendents apply for state funding to help students who are struggling with their mental health.
“(We are) working hand-in-hand with them about what they could implement in their schools, as well as how more trauma-informed practices can be integrated into the schools with their existing structures (and) what additional support can be there,” Malott said.
Malott said the regional office has also started professional development for special education teachers and school counselors and has started a teacher support group.
“Teachers finding time in their day has been a challenge as we all know and they are feeling a lot of pressure, but also want to ensure that they know that the (ROE) supports them and their wellbeing in addition to their schools,” Malott said.