Juniata Valley School Board members heard proposals on the topic of providing additional mental health and behavioral services from several faculty members during their monthly meeting Wednesday night.

Lisa Coble, director of student services for the district, discussed the potential implementation of a school-based mental health program.

“A school-based mental health program acts as an additional resource for students within our district,” Coble said. “For those familiar, it is something that has already been implemented at Mount Union.”

The program aims to provide a team of counselors within the schools to see students regarding mental health and behavior.

“If the program were to get up and running, it would allow us to have a local agency come into our school and work with students in need,” Coble said. “…These agencies will help serve the mental health needs of some of our students.”

In order to apply, the school district will collect the necessary data, such as the number of students with free or reduced lunch, the number of students currently receiving support through the Student Assistance Program (SAP) or Tier II, a SAP-like program in the elementary school, and number of suspensions and provide it to the Community Care Behavioral Health Organization.

The organization will then determine what options are available for the district.

One motivation for the program is an increased need for such services among students. Coble noted an increase in this need over the last several years.

“Need for such programs has increased for students,” Coble said. “This is something we’ve noticed over the last several years…(Because of this,) we began to consider the program last year, and began the work to get the program in the district this year.”

The difficulties parents experience in using mental health services after school and the scarcity of such local programs were other motivations.

“The program would us to work with the families and the insurance coverages they have for our students in order to provide services and support here at school,” said Jessica Quinter, principal of Juniata Valley Elementary School. “For a lot of our families, it is difficult for them to take their child somewhere after school, like an appointment. By providing this service in the school, we have that extra level of support for students and families. Also, given the rural nature of our county, resources are limited. Providing more convenient access in the area would be beneficial for many of our students, as well.”

Downsides to the program exist regarding insurance. As the services are insurance-based, the providers will not be able to see any student. Though it will be valuable, nonetheless.

“The provider won’t be able to see all students,” Coble said. “It is insurance-based, so the providers will only be able to see some of the students…it will still be beneficial to many of our students, however.”

Coble also stated that the implementation of the program will take time. The collection of data necessary for the program can take several more years.

However, the district does not see the potential wait as a deterrent. They will continue to work on the project for the betterment of the students and do what is possible to help students in the meantime.

“To implement the program, we will need to collect a boatload of data, as I mentioned,” Coble said. “Because of this, it can be a very lengthy process, and will take multiple years to get up and running at Juniata Valley…However, we’re working to have it implemented as soon as possible, and will keep helping students in whatever ways we can.”

Joshua can be reached at jblattenberger@huntingdondailynews.com.

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