SPRINGFIELD, Mo- A recent Burrell Behavioral Health program is now entering the classrooms in Springfield Public Schools (SPS).

The program places Burrell staff, known as School-Based Support Specialists, into public schools to help students showing signs of mental health issues.

How does the School-Based Program work?

Amy Hill, the System Director of School-Based Services for Burrell says, “They have regularly scheduled session times that they try to meet with kids on a regular basis, but they’re also available for crisis intervention, and I will tell you they do quite a bit of that. So if there’s a kid who’s in the middle of an episode or they need some additional support, they’re there on-site; available to go meet that need at the time.”

The specialists practice trauma-informed care, which recognizes that people often have many different types of trauma in their lives and need support and compassion from those around them. They also assist with diagnosing and treating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, and more, according to Burrell.

Amy says these specialists are different than your regular school counselors.

“After talking with a lot of school counselors, what I’ve learned is that they typically can only spend 20 to 30 percent of their time actually providing counseling services to kids. They’re doing a lot of guidance, a lot of curriculum, a lot of college and prep planning in the classroom sort of lessons. We are just an extension of the counselor’s office, so they will see kids a few times themselves and then if they feel like this kid needs some more intense support, they are the ones that make the referrals to us.”

The school-based program is not new to Burrell. Vice President of Youth Services with Burrell Elizabeth Avery says they’ve had school-based programs in the past at different districts around Missouri and Northern Arkansas. Starting this school year they have 27 school districts with school-based services.

Elizabeth says of the 1,500 students they have helped with school-based programs, they have a seen a 73% decrease in anxiety among those who struggle with it.

Right now in Springfield, they have two feeder patterns in the SPS district: Hillcrest and Parkview. A feeder pattern is a group of schools within the same district as a specific high school, generally named after the high school.

They plan on rolling out the program throughout feeder patterns for the rest of Springfield over the next year and a half.

Focusing on Family

“This particular expansion is really something that has impacted in a way that we haven’t been able to do before. Because what happened was that the Medicaid rules our state changed last spring which allowed community mental health agencies to come into the school district and work with students and then bill Medicaid or private insurance. So, that opened the door for us to provide services on-site,” says Rhonda Mammen, Director of Counseling Services with SPS.

Amy mentions that as a mother of four herself it would be difficult to take off work to take her kids to therapy, and both Burrell and SPS say they have gotten great feedback from parents about having this service at school.

School-based support specialists also work with parents or caregivers about the practices they are using during the school day and how to incorporate them into the child’s home life.

A Day in the life of a School-Based Support Specialist

I talked with one of the school-based support specialists, April Preston, about what her average day looks like and how she helps kids at Fremont Elementary develop skills to help their mental health.

April has been in the mental health field for a few years and has been in a school-based program for about one year now. She started at a residential facility and has noticed a change with how she has been able to help the kids.

“I feel like in the mental health world we hear things like you can’t save them all, really negative statements like that and a lot of times you go into the mental health profession thinking that what you’re doing you probably won’t see a difference. But in the school setting I’ve had so many teachers come to me and tell me, hey I don’t know what you’re doing, but something’s different,” says April.

How does one get into the School-Based Program?

“We have a lot of parents who refer their kids to therapy just through self-referral not even necessarily notifying the counselor. So if a parent notices signs or symptoms of mental illness or if there’s even a youth who’s listening and thinks, ‘Man, I think I’m struggling with some anxiety or some depression’, you don’t have to wait for a school counselor to come ask you if you want services you can definitely seek them out. I would encourage parents and students to reach out to the school counselor and ask about our program,” says Amy.

You can also call Burrell directly or send them an email, to find that information click here.