Award-winning psychological well being companies at Penn-Trafford face an unsure future


Penn-Trafford College District psychologist Dr. Wendy Westwood nonetheless remembers the calls and emails she and others acquired from college students initially of the pandemic.

“After getting back from Covid, we seen an enormous enhance in psychological well being issues from elementary to highschool,” he mentioned. “We had college students emailing the instructors and me. They’d no stability; they did not know what occurred.”

One thing needed to be executed within the space. Penn-Trafford introduced in additional psychological well being help via Innerright, with the purpose of connecting college students to extra assets and assist.

“We began this program as a result of we noticed that the necessity was (so) elevated,” Westwood mentioned. “College students did not know tips on how to take care of the results of covid.”

This system, began at Penn-Trafford via an organization known as Bridges, is a “bridge” between the college and psychological well being companies. Suitable with the district’s present Scholar Help Program (SAP), Bridges facilitates anxiousness help teams in addition to some further particular person remedy periods. Three different therapists work with the college via this system, taking a number of the workload off district counselors.

Regardless of the applications’ success, Penn-Trafford’s psychological well being companies are actually wanting forward with some trepidation. As a result of the Bridges program was paid for with American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary College Emergency Reduction (ARP-ESSER) cash, the district should search further funding to maintain it sooner or later.

In response to enterprise workplace specialist Carol Smolka, the month-to-month invoice for the Bridges program is $15,000 to $17,000. Thus far for the 2022-23 college 12 months, the district has paid $78,000 for this system.

“If we do not get this proper and proceed with all these companies, if we do not begin educating college students about social and emotional studying and have that ‘one thing’ that must be executed, we will proceed to see these issues down the highway,” mentioned Dr. Amy Horvat, Penn-Trafford Excessive College assistant principal and member of the SAP crew.

“I do know we’re an academic and educational kind of place, but when we do not join with that, not one of the teachers will likely be absorbed until we entry the psychological well being part,” Horvat mentioned. “A few of these issues should be included into faculties.”

Offering help

As a part of a Pennsylvania state initiative, each Penn-Trafford college constructing has a Scholar Help Program, a gaggle of lecturers and directors who work collectively to assist college students in disaster.

Penn-Trafford Excessive College’s SAP crew received a statewide award — the Distinguished Secondary SAP Staff Award 2023 from the Pennsylvania Board of Scholar Help Professionals — for its work with college students final February.

“We’re fairly an eclectic group. Our college psychologists sit in on these conferences; we’ve got lecturers at completely different grade ranges and with completely different ranges of experience,” mentioned Horvat. “We bounce concepts off one another. … We come to each assembly optimistic concerning the college students and we strive issues — we do not say, ‘That will not work.’ We strive them and see in the event that they work.”

When a homeroom trainer notices indicators {that a} scholar is struggling – a sudden drop in grades or a change in habits – they will alert the SAP crew. A kind is shipped to the entire scholar’s lecturers to evaluate the state of affairs, and if the crew finds assist useful, a permission kind is shipped to the coed’s household to debate attainable assist.

“We won’t do something with out the mother and father’ permission,” Horvat identified. “(We) arrange the scholars with mentors. They’ve a mentor individual — they are often of their class or they see them within the cafeteria — and the scholars know that they are their individual to go to if they’ve an issue.”

Mentors are anybody who’s a part of a constructing’s SAP crew, he mentioned, however not normally as a counselor or principal.

“They construct a relationship with that scholar, so these college students who’ve the problems we talked about have somebody to go to apart from their counselor,” he mentioned. “It is at all times bizarre coming all the way down to the workplace – we strive not to do this until we’ve got a particular bond with the coed that method. For probably the most half, the lecturers have a mentor relationship.”

Along with mentoring, the SAP program can join college students to help companies out and in of college in partnership with Westmoreland County, Horvat mentioned.

“We will not be conscious of something that will assist a household that they will join them with,” he mentioned.

The Bridges program is on show in highschool, center college and elementary college beginning this 12 months. If a scholar has a Therapist outdoors of college, they will nonetheless take part within the Bridges program with out duplicating companies.

“It permits them to discover and get completely different companies on the identical time, the place usually insurance coverage requires you to finish one service earlier than transferring on to a different,” Westwood mentioned. “You will get several types of therapies collectively.”

Elevated want

For the reason that starting of the pandemic, the district, like the complete area, has seen a rise within the variety of college students who need assistance with psychological well being issues. Horvat described the combating as “widespread”.

“There are not any limits to the way it presents itself and who it presents itself to,” he mentioned. “It is simply in all places.”

In December 2022, Penn-Trafford Excessive College college students have been requested to anonymously full a voluntary survey. Of the 1,256 college students who attend Penn-Trafford Excessive College, 58% or 729 college students participated within the survey.

In response to the survey, 23% of scholars rated emotional issues and anxiousness/melancholy, adverse peer relationships, and a focus deficit/hyperactivity dysfunction as excessive or very excessive considerations.

Initially of February 2023, a complete of 71 Penn-Trafford Excessive College college students had been assisted via the SAP program.

Counselors and therapists on the college and Innerright are sometimes busy. This college 12 months, via the highschool’s Bridges program, two therapists from Innersight Bridges met individually with 30 high-needs college students, and three therapists from Innersight Bridges ran 10 completely different remedy teams with greater than 65 45-minute periods.

As of February, 63 Penn-Trafford college students have seen one-on-one periods with Bridges’ therapists, and 141 college students have participated in Bridges’ group remedy this college 12 months.

Transfer ahead

Specifically, the Innerright Bridges program was financed with ESSER funding throughout the pandemic. Over the following 12 months, ESSER funds will not be accessible, that means the district must discover new funding sources or change its applications.

“(It is) not one thing we will all of a sudden cease,” Horvat emphasised. “I do know our district will discover a method, however we simply needed it to be identified that it is nonetheless an issue.”

Penn-Trafford has sought grants and different funding sources to help this system and plans to proceed to take action. A part of the issue is that the Bridges program wasn’t initially meant to be a long-term program, but it surely continues to offer wanted assist for college kids amid ongoing psychological well being points, Horvat mentioned.

“This was one thing we did not understand the extent of after we introduced in assist, and we would have liked assist,” Horvat mentioned. “We thought we would get it below management in two years, however that did not occur as a result of it grew exponentially. … Now we completely must discover a strategy to keep what we’ve got and the momentum that we’ve got, and people funds are gone.”

Impact of help

Within the midst of economic difficulties, Westwood usually focuses on the optimistic points of the Bridges program and SAP and the assistance he and the crew have been in a position to present. He retains a thanks card from college students and households in his workplace.

“At commencement, I get letters from mother and father thanking us that we have gotten so far, that our youngsters are doing effectively now,” she mentioned. “Lots of people do not even perceive my position and the roles of others – they only know that somebody supported their college students after they got here.”

Assist acquired on the junior class stage can help a scholar all through their educational life and past, he famous.

“As a result of I work at completely different ranges, I noticed a highschool scholar who would not have an issue, that I do know we labored onerous in elementary college and supplied them with these companies, and people issues made an impression they usually’ve adjusted effectively,” she mentioned.

When the SAP crew can transfer a scholar from an “lively” to an inactive watchlist, Horvat feels inspired that one thing has improved in his life.

“It is one of the best factor for me after we transfer them to follow-up as a result of we have talked about them, and a optimistic (factor) occurs, and one thing has modified,” he mentioned.

Julia Maruca is a workers author for the Tribune-Evaluate. You possibly can contact Julia at

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