Schools Plus: Building resiliency and hope
The Community Room at Amherst Regional High School (ARHS) is a busy place. The TV is on, music is playing and the room is almost always full of students, and Marvin Hairston. Marvin is the community outreach worker for the SchoolsPlus hub site at ARHS and is one of three community outreach workers at SchoolsPlus sites in CCRSB.
CCRSB’s SchoolsPlus hub sites are located at ARHS, Truro Junior High School and New Glasgow Academy and a fourth site, in the Nova Family, is due to come online in the 2016-2017 school year. That’s good news for students and their families, as each SchoolsPlus hub site provides service to the elementary and middle schools around it (sometimes as many as six).
The work that Marvin and other community outreach workers do varies day-to-day, hour-to-hour. It has to. That flexibility is the key to providing students and families with the support they need, in the way they need it.
“What I do on a day-to-day basis depends on the needs of the schools and families we work with,” said Marvin. “Mornings, before school, I am often trying to pull students out of bed and convince them to go to school. At other times throughout the school day I may be facilitating a program like SkatePass (in physical education classes), Options 2 Anger, or Friends for Life (anxiety prevention) in one of our six schools.”
Marvin’s energy, enthusiasm and passion for helping students and their families is shared by his SchoolsPlus team members in Amherst: Kim Wood, facilitator, and Robin Greene, mental health clinician. Together, Kim, Robin and Marvin work to make the Amherst SchoolsPlus site a safe-haven for students and their families; a place and a space where access to services through departments like Community Services, Public Health and Justice is streamlined and easily accessible. That’s called wraparound service and it is the key to complex case management, the foundation on which SchoolsPlus was built.
Complex cases mean that a student has involvement with multiple service departments of government, at the same time. “Students get referred to SchoolsPlus when they are involved with multiple services, that may not be making the positive change that the family is looking for,” said Wood. “By helping families navigate those many services it reduces frustrations and allows for work to begin much more quickly.” SchoolsPlus sites offer a space where families can meet with multiple agencies at the same time helping to eliminate some of the more common barriers, like travel time and costs.
“The client is the family, the student needing the direct service is at the centre, but to effect any real change you have to work with the whole family,” said Greene.
The connections made between SchoolsPlus sites and community partners translates to enhanced support for students and families who find themselves in crisis, or need. “The Celtic Family of Schools currently have a great working relationship with all agencies that provide services to children and youth through Pictou County Partners,” said Ron Turnbull, Celtic Family of Schools supervisor. “The implementation of SchoolsPlus will further strengthen and enhance the interagency collaboration that already exists which will be of great benefit in supporting students and families.”
SchoolsPlus staff members are witness to heartbreak and triumph. Last year at ARHS, Kim and her team delighted in the graduation of a student who had been involved with SchoolsPlus since junior high. For some students progress is graduation. For other students progress is just coming to school.
“Progress is determined case-by-case. Ultimately it’s about building resiliency in students, helping and supporting them to make the right decisions,” said Greene. “Success is seeing a student make the right decision, the right choice for them. That means everything. We celebrate everything, all the small steps are important.”
SchoolsPlus staff members are supported in their work by an advisory council. Made up of representatives from partner agencies and departments – like Justice, Community Services, Public Health and Addictions Services – the council comes together once a month to review the active cases and discuss the best path forward for each student.
Tracey Shay is the SchoolsPlus Facilitator for Truro. She sees the role of the Advisory Council as indispensable. "One of the strengths of the SchoolsPlus program is the role of the Advisory Council. We are very fortunate to have a variety of senior managers on our committee from multiple government departments, as well as the Colchester Health Authority, the Truro Police, and the John Howard Society. All of these people play a critical role in helping us provide an approach that is based on collaborative problem solving. Having a multidisciplinary voice at the table allows us to explore issues and concerns in a way that we otherwise would not be able to do."
The challenges for SchoolsPlus staff members are many, but the rewards are outstanding. A world without SchoolsPlus, for many students, would be bleak.
“I think there would be a noticeable difference in Amherst without the presence of SchoolsPlus. I believe there would be a number of students who would simply stop going to school,” said Hairston. “Some students don't have a lot of positive things in their life, so having a safe supportive environment to look forward to after school is a huge deal. Some other students just need to know there is an adult in the building they can connect with if they are having a rough day.”
For more information about the SchoolsPlus program, visit the website.