On-site mental health clinics funded by a nonprofit are aiding schools.
Tara Powell knew there was a need to improve academics and student behavior at Brown Academy in Henderson when she came on as principal two years ago.
That also meant addressing another challenge: improving mental health.
Last year alone, the middle school initiated 118 “suicide protocols,” an assessment that occurs when a student expresses thoughts of suicide. But the response to the mental health challenges was temporary, Powell said.
“We were almost putting a BandAid on the situation, and we weren’t getting to the root cause because they weren’t continuing on their therapy,” she said.
That’s where site-based therapy came into play.
This year, Brown is one of five Clark County schools with on-site mental health clinics equipped with licensed therapists and intake specialists, all funded by the nonprofit United Charity Foundation.
The wellness clinics, which first appeared at Valley High School in 2016, make mental health more accessible for all students by providing services to all children who need them, regardless of whether they have insurance.
That’s important in the Clark County School District, which is struggling with a school psychologist shortage while gradually building up its social worker roster through state grants.
“By having the site-based therapy here, we can, in a discreet manner, get the kid what they need, and then they can meet their full potential academically, behaviorally, social-emotionally,” Powell said. “So it truly has been game-changing.”
The United Charity Foundation,
founded by Ash Mirchandani in 2010, runs the centers through roughly $640,000 in state grants and private donations. Each center costs the foundation $140,000 a year, which covers the cost of one therapist and one intake specialist to help with scheduling appointments and obtaining consent.
While the centers take insurance or bill through Medicaid when possible, they do not turn away uninsured or undocumented students, said Shari Brown, the foundation’s director of development.
And the need is still great. Brown said the foundation has waiting lists of students and schools that need
“We probably are the last man standing for Clark County as far as student-based mental health clinics because, again, we’re not driven by the money necessarily. We’re more driven by the outcome,” she said.
At Brown Academy, school administration refers students for therapy, which requires parental consent. Therapy sessions are offered during the student’s elective classes.
For Powell, the wellness center is one resource for tackling mental health.
“We approach teaching and learning with a trauma-informed approach,” she said. “We assume that all students have experienced some type of trauma. How are we going to interact with those kiddos? How are we going to develop positive
or appropriate relationships? How are we going to meet all their needs while giving them those high expectations with academics so they can rise above and get to the next level?”
So far this school year, Brown Academy has seen improvement. As of mid-november, it had instituted fewer suicide protocols than it did during the same period last year.
“We’ve seen behaviors go down tremendously,” Powell said. “There’s a lot of things that have been put into place, but UCF, being that intervention where we can get to the root cause, has been integral.”
Principal Tara Powell poses in the wellness center at Brown Academy in Henderson, where students receive on-site mental health therapy from licensed professionals.