Helping Children Secure a Brighter Future

Imagine being 10 years old, living in a rural community where many people live below the poverty line, and having an unstable home life. What would you do?

By Kathleen Pitcher Tobey
In this setting, a child may suffer from Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as abuse and neglect, which can impact a child’s ability to advance in school or lead a healthy life. With limited access to counseling, a child may act out in school or, worse yet, may begin to suffer from mental health issues that, if untreated, can have a tremendously negative impact on their overall development. Sadly, these types of behaviors can often lead to substance abuse, dropping out of school, and other negative behaviors that can impact the rest of a child’s life.
In order to help combat this ongoing cycle, the Lee Pesky Learning Center (LPLC), based in Boise, Idaho, has implemented a very successful program, called the School-Based Mental Health Project, that is designed to help students address these behaviors. As Evelyn Johnson, executive director of the LPLC explains it, teaching self-regulation is the key.
“The program is designed to help children who come from at-risk situations learn how to self-regulate their behavior. A child in grade school who has a difficult home life and who may struggle in school faces a great deal of anxiety. If they don’t know how to address their emotional needs, they can quickly find themselves in a vicious cycle that can lead to significant long-term issues.”
The program was structured in a very unique way which incorporates a great deal of involvement with the teachers from the Desert Springs Elementary School, which served as the pilot school for the program. A three-tiered model has been implemented over the past year which has had a very positive impact on many students.
Tier One is designed to serve as a preventive level of services for all students in grades three through five. It consists of providing professional development to the teachers and staff at Desert Springs so that they learn about how to teach children to self-regulate their behavior. Students who show an increased risk for depression, anxiety, limited self-regulation ability and negative behaviors will receive Tier Two services which include 1:1 counseling. Tier Three services, for those for students with very intensive needs, will be referred through the counselors to regional services as needed.
“One of the goals we had was to design a program that was scalable and easy to replicate in other communities,” said Johnson. “The teachers who have participated in the program appreciate being equipped with strategies to help address behavioral issues. But just as important is that we see that, as the children modify their behaviors, they do better in the classroom. With improvement in the classroom comes increased self-esteem which puts the children in a better position to succeed outside of school.”
Since children spend a majority of their day at school, it’s important to create a positive atmosphere where they can feel comfortable. By teaching children to self-regulate their behaviors, the LPLC is helping to give these children an opportunity to improve their academic performance as well as set them on a path towards a more positive future.
The work being done by the LPLC aligns with the Cambia Health Foundation’s goal of advancing children’s behavioral health. What is most exciting about the work being done at the LPLC is that the children are being taught valuable strategies that will not only help them in the classroom today, but coping mechanisms that will help them be successful in the future.