Penn State, SCASD work to integrate schools and mental health systems

University Park, Pa. - Elizabeth A. Mellin, assistant professor of counselor education at Penn State, is evaluating a two-year partnership between the University and State College Area School District. The project, titled State College S.U.M.M.I.T., aims to decrease nonacademic barriers to learning and improve access by high school students to local mental health services.

The initiative is titled State College S.U.M.M.I.T. (an acronym for student- and family-driven priorities; understanding risk and protective factors; merging resources; monitoring outcomes; interventions with evidence; and technology for dissemination). The $373,704 project is one of 16 funded nationally under the U.S. Department of Education’s Grants for the Integration of Schools and Mental Health Systems program, administered by the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. It runs from July 2010 through June 2012.

The project calls for local area partners to improve students’ access to mental health services by creating and enhancing innovative linkages between school, mental health, and juvenile justice systems. Partners include Penn State’s Psychological Clinic (Michael C. Wolff and Brian A. Rabian, assistant directors), the Centre County Mental Health and Mental Retardation office (Julie Segal), the Centre County Probation and Parole office (Tom Backenstoe, juvenile supervisor), and SCASD (Nicole Warcholak, project coordinator, and Jeanne Knouse, director for learning enrichment and student services).

Throughout the course of the grant, the partners will aim to enhance, improve, and/or develop collaborative efforts between school-based service systems and mental health service systems to provide and improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment services to students, and increase the availability of crisis intervention services. Other goals include providing training for school and mental health professionals; consultation to school systems, mental health agencies, and families in the program; and providing linguistically appropriate and culturally competent services.

Wolff and Rabian will design and deliver local training opportunities.

Mellin, who has worked on similar projects in Atlanta, was instrumental in authoring the new grant. Her research area, which focuses on collaborative efforts among schools, families, and communities to broaden efforts to support positive developmental outcomes for youth, will provide support for advancing the goals of this project.

As part of her work with the grant, Mellin will be testing a new instrument, known as the School Mental Health Collaboration Scale, which she co-authored with Mark Weist and Leslie Taylor of the University of South Carolina.

“Although school-family-community collaboration is considered a best-practice strategy for improving educational and mental health outcomes for young people, differences in professional terminology, mandates, and turf issues often make collaboration difficult to achieve in practice,” said Mellin. “This grant provides our local school district, agencies, and families the space to consider and address obstacles to shared work and to plan how we can do a better job addressing nonacademic barriers to learning.”

Mellin added, “At the end of the project, the partners will be well positioned to apply for Safe Schools/Healthy Students funding through the Department of Education. This funding typically provides several million dollars of support for expanded school mental health services.”

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Last Updated March 21, 2011