By Dr. Rebecca Malmo, Executive Director of Student and Family Support Services
AS WE BEGIN a new school year, it is important to share the progressive actions Madera Unified School District (MUSD) is taking to support health and wellness for MUSD students. Toward this end, our School Board has recently approved the new position of Director of Health and Wellness. Brooke Durrell, LCSW has filled this role and now leads a department of behavioral health clinicians, a Behavior Analyst, substance abuse counselors, and our Health Services staff, supervised by Caitlin Pendley, RN.
Along with school districts across the country, Madera Unified has experienced an increase in student presentation of mental health impairments. This has lead to the prioritization of the social and emotional well-being of all students through a variety of initiatives. The most significant of these is the commitment to a Health and Wellness Department and the upcoming addition of a grant funded Mobile Health Care Center designed to support student health and wellness across the district. The Mobile Health Care Center will be primarily stationed at our older school sites that do not have appropriate facilities for provision of behavioral health services. However, it will be available to serve all district students and health and wellness needs. In addition, the Mobile Health Care Center has been purposefully designed to provide for a space for vaccination clinics, auditory and visual screening and athletic physicals. Be on the look-out in October for a brightly “wrapped” motor home-type vehicle dedicated to “Project Safe and Healthy Kids!”
Since taking on her new role, Ms. Durrell has tackled policy, referrals, compliance and scheduling, as well as representing MUSD on various Behavioral Health-related committees, such as the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Madera County. She also triages all the Behavioral Referrals submitted by school sites when they observe concerning symptoms demonstrated by students, and assigning them to Ms. Negrete, Ms. Silva or Dr. Wandler as appropriate. She also monitors all 5150 risk and threat assessments, and monitors Safety Plans for both types of 5150 — California Code 5150 descriptor begins with: “when a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself…”. She has also created some great partnerships with our local Behavioral Health providers such as Madera County Behavioral Health and Camarena to expand the services to our students. A digital Behavioral Health Referral form is used to request all Behavioral Health services.
Dr. Wandler provides intervention, support, and guidance, largely at elementary sites. The question has been asked about what teachers can expect if Dr. Wandler’s support is requested. The answer depends on the needs of the student and teacher. In some cases she will evaluate student behavior and make recommendations for interventions. In some cases, she will model alternative teacher behavior, or deescalate a student, again based on the individual student and teacher needs and behavior.
Ms. Negrete and Ms. Silva serve the Behavioral Health needs of our students as clinicians, providing both individual student, and in some cases family therapy. Their services are typically limited to about 12 weeks/sessions, as impairments exceeding 12 weeks are better addressed by higher levels of care.
Another important district development has been the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Madera County (SPCMC.) The SPCMC is comprised of representatives of several Madera community based organizations including, Madera Unified School District, Madera County Behavioral Health, Madera County Public Health Department, Camarena, Madera Community Hospital, Valley Children’s Hospital, Madera Police Department, Kingsview, NAMI, and Madera Juvenile Probation. The SPCMS meets monthly and is committed to providing the best possible mental health services to the Madera community.
Madera Unified has also formed a district Suicide Prevention Committee, with K-12 site representation, focused upon planning mental health related activities, such as those associated with Suicide Prevention Awareness week for students in grades 7-12 in September. If you are the parent of a 7-12 grade student, you may have noticed that suicide crisis text and phone line numbers are printed on the back of all student ID cards. This requirement was mandated by recent legislation. Please take the time to add those numbers into your phone.
Community Services and Parent Resource Centers (CS & PRC) have also been included as part of our health and wellness focus. Thanks to our partnership with Madera County Behavioral Health, our K-8 parents are now receiving a monthly Parenting Tips newsletter highlighting strategies to support mental wellness. Based on grant funding, MUSD will be offering The Parent Project parent courses in the fall. These ten-week courses, available in English and Spanish, are designed to help parents with children who are defiant or disruptive. School site staff can provide more information, if you are interested in accessing these services. Lastly, the Parent Resource Centers will provide additional programming to meet the needs of parents who wish to learn more about student experimentation with opioids and other narcotic substances.
Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)
Madera Unified School District has been aggressive in pursuing federal grant funds to support the work of MTSS and improvement of School Culture and Climate district-wide. The School Board has supported this work by approving a Director of School Culture and Climate. MTSS is a systematic, continuous-improvement framework in which data-based problem solving and decision making is practiced across all levels of the educational system to support students in social emotional, behavioral and academic areas.
MTSS focuses on aligning the entire system of initiatives, supports, and resources, systematically addressing support for ALL students, including gifted and high achieving.
MTSS enables a paradigm shift for providing support and setting higher expectations for ALL students through intentional design of integrated services and supports, rather than selection of a few components of intensive interventions. Integrated intervention supports provide that systemic changes are sustainable over time. MTSS is not intended for consideration in special education placement decisions. MTSS focuses on ALL students in ALL education contexts.
Madera Unified currently has four staff members dedicated specifically to MTSS implementation. Though not directly part of the Behavioral Health Department, they are “related” in that they have largely focused on developing a Behavior Intervention Matrix, developing a “Toolkit” of Behavioral Intervention resources, and developing all the components of our new universal behavior screening tool, currently in use at our 3 pilot schools. The universal behavior screening tool, the Student Risk Screening Scale (SRSS) is used as part of MTSS to help teachers identify students who need additional supports to be successful in school. The MTSS Specialists train staff on the use of the tool, review the resulting data with site teams, and make recommendations for research-based responses to intervention, with entry and exit criteria and progress monitoring tools.
The two most important social emotional and behavioral components of Tier 1, the universal tier for all students, are Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) and social emotional learning. PBIS is, as it sounds, a positive behavior system that intentionally teaches students about behavior expectations through positive means. In addition, toward our goal of building internal capacity, staff members have now been certified as PBIS Assessors. Second Step curriculum is one of the Social Emotional Learning products used in Madera Unified. We received new materials for grades K-5 last fall and we will receive new, digital Second Step curriculum for grades 6-8 this fall.
Many of the health related initiatives mentioned above have been funded through the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant, which focused on Student Health and Wellness, and was funded by the federal government.