Schools to boost services

The Lafayette Parish School System is working out partnerships with local health care providers in an attempt to place a social worker and nurse on every school campus, a concept being tested at 11 schools.

“The goal is to have the social worker and nurse in every school by the end of the school year,” said Bradley Cruice, the school system’s health and wellness director. “We are still in the process. We are actively working with several health care entities in the area to accomplish that goal.”

Every school in the district has an assigned nurse and social worker, but their time is split between several schools. At the beginning of the current school year, 11 schools were assigned their own nurse and social worker to phase in the implementation of a health and wellness team concept on all campuses in the district. The health and wellness teams are designed to triage issues students may have — whether behavioral, physical or academic — that may be preventing a student from succeeding in the classroom.

Teams meet weekly and leading up to the meeting all data associated with a student, including health, attendance, academic and behavioral reports, are analyzed and the child’s teacher is surveyed to get a better idea of the child’s behavior and attitude toward school, explained Stephanie Robin, the district’s health and wellness coordinator.

“When we get in the meeting, we’re really trying to focus on the solution and say ‘Here’s our menu of solutions to the problems,’ ” she said.

Team members include a school counselor, social worker, nurse, behavioral interventionist, administrator, pupil appraisal staff and the students’ teacher or other staffers and community members associated with the student. For example, if the student has been arrested in the past, his or her probation officer may get called in to the health and wellness team meeting for that student. Parents or the child’s caretakers are also invited to the meetings.

The team approach enables the group to learn more about the student and more easily piece together the issues that may be preventing the student from succeeding in class, said Jim Boudreaux, eighth-grade counselor at Carencro Middle and the school’s health and wellness team leader.

“We’re able to discover things about the child from other team members,” he said.

Since its implementation in August and early December, 881 meetings had been scheduled with students at the 11 schools, Robin said.

At Carencro Middle, about 100 students had been seen as of Dec. 13, Boudreaux said.

Solutions are based on the students’ specific needs, but children and families may be referred to counseling if the child is dealing with a mental health issue. In some cases, teams have uncovered that students’ decline academically and behaviorally throughout the day was related to their medication dosages, and with physician oversight, those issues were resolved, Robin said.

A case manager tracks each student and follows through on whatever solution is identified. Having a go-to person on the campus has also benefited students, said Lesley Angelle, academic behavior coordinator and part of the team at Carencro Middle.

“That student knowing that there’s one person on campus who’s their coach cheering them on, it makes a huge difference,” Angelle said.

School staff or parents can refer a student to the health and wellness team.

“Recently, a custodian told me he was worried about a kid,” Boudreaux said.

Robin added that bus drivers have reported issues of concern they’ve seen in students’ neighborhoods.

Prior to the health and wellness team approach, Steve FrugĂ© met with students, their parents and school staff in expulsion hearings. He is now one of the district’s new community liaisons who serves as bridges between schools and students’ families. He works with schools in the Carencro and Scott areas.

As an expulsion hearing officer, “I may have had three hearings with the same student,” he said. “Now, we have a panel that tries to find out why the kid is misbehaving.”

In the past, help was sought for a student through referrals to different services, but “it’s happening on the front-end now,” Fruge said.

It’s also eliminated the “cookie-cutter” approach for dealing with students, Robin said.

“Each situation is looked at for each kid,” she said.

Identifying students’ issues and identifying solutions before they have to be removed from the school takes a team approach, Angelle said.

“I’ve seen a change in how we deal with students,” she said. “More solutions are available to all students and staff that look at the whole child. In the past, there weren’t enough staff members.”