Health care provider to identify students with behavioral issues

FORTVILLE — In hopes of improving the learning environment for both its educators and students, Mt. Vernon School Corp. has partnered with a health care provider to identify and treat children who might benefit from behavioral treatment.

As part of a partnership with Community Health Network, the district will offer office space to professionals who will help the schools identify and treat students with behavioral issues. Administrators say some students who act out in class or perform poorly might do so because they’re struggling with larger problems, such as depression, which teachers and administrators aren’t specifically trained to identify or treat.

Beginning in January, behavioral health professionals will start sitting in classes and working with teachers to identify students who could benefit from treatment or therapy, said Brian Tomamichel, business manager for the district.

“Many of our teachers have children who may normally act out in a classroom and might have a need for special services,” said Tomamichel, who’s organized the partnership. “But that’s something we can’t provide on our end alone.”

When a student behaves poorly in class, it can derail a teacher’s lesson plan and make the entire class lose out on instructional time, Tomamichel said. But with treatment, students can learn to correct their behavior, improving the learning environment for themselves and fellow students, he said.

And by observing students in the classroom — an environment familiar to children — the health specialists will be able to identify social behaviors that students might not display in a more isolated, clinical environment, Tomamichel added.

Once students are identified, school officials will reach out to families or guardians to see if they’re interested in the services, and if their health insurance qualifies them for the specified treatment, Tomamichel said.

Clinical social workers and behavioral therapists from Community Health Network will deliver treatment inside school facilities.

Community Health Network will bill a family’s insurance directly for any treatment received, and aside from the space provided the services will cost the district nothing. If students don’t have private insurance or Medicaid, they won’t qualify, Tomamichel said.

Bernie Campbell, principal at Mt. Vernon High School, said he often deals with students who have recurring behavioral or performance issues, but as an administrator he’s not trained to identify and treat those matters himself.

Having a health professional on hand who’s trained to recognize behaviors before they manifest into something worse presents a great opportunity for the district, he said.

“The long-term benefits from this are immense,” Campbell said. “Knowing that our teachers will have something at their doorstep for them to intervene and help students, I expect it to be really successful.”

Community Health Network has operated similar school-based programs since 1997 in various districts throughout central Indiana.

By treating students in a familiar environment, children will likely be more receptive to the care, said Joan Reed, operations director for the school-based program and a licensed clinical social worker for Community Health Network.

“Providing these services in this natural environment allows students, teachers and families to function together successfully in the classroom …” Reed said.

Depending on each student’s needs, professionals from Community Health Network also will be able to provide treatment to students at their homes outside of school hours, Reed said.

Details of which specific building the program will start with haven’t yet been determined, Tomamichel said, but the plan is to eventually reach all grade levels.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.