School district adds behavioral health team

Local News

A school district in Elk County is adding new mental health services to help middle school students.

The Ridgway Area School District teamed up with Community Care Behavioral Health to bring a behavioral health unit to the middle school.

“We took a look at what the needs were across the district and we recognized that the middle school is probably the area that could use the greatest amount of support,” superintendent Heather McMahon-Vargas said. “It’s not only a transition in school, it’s a transition through social, emotional and physical changes.”

How it works is a student has to have a mental health diagnosis to be eligible.

The student will then work with a team from Dickinson Center in Ridgway, who provide therapy, case management and consultations.

“There’s a lot of kids who would not have access to these resources if it was dependant of a parent driving them to an appointment, so it opens the door for a lot of kids to receive across settings,” Dickinson Center psychologist Amanda Straub said.

The program is completely free and offers students help in and outside of the school day.

“We can go into the homes, we can go into the communities, we have staff that are on call 24/7, so if the family is having a crisis, they can call our staff directly,” Dickinson Center executive director Heidi Thomas said.

The school is also going to implement a summer program so services don’t have to stop while school is not in session.

McMahon-Vargas said they added this program because of the growing importance schools play in a child’s life.

“I think the role of schools have changed so much within the last 10 years,” McMahon-Vargas said. “Not only are we academic places of learning, but we also really have to start to look at the whole child and the welfare of the whole child.

As the program grows, the district’s next plan is to expand the services to the elementary school.

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