Dickinson’s Prairie Rose Elementary has joined a regional mental health pilot program to learn new strategies for helping students with mental illness.
The program is part of the Mountain Plains Mental Health Technology Transfer Center, which provides training and resources to people who serve those with mental illness.
The center is one of 12 across the nation, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and serves Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
Schools in the pilot program meet with a facilitator of the center to learn about the resources it provides and to share strategies to address mental health needs with one another. They then implement those programs in their schools.
"It’s a dedicated co-op, partnership that is willing to not only share different strategies that they’re using within their school to meet student need and share positive experiences, but also learn from challenges and strategies that are working," said Rich Smith, assistant principal at Prairie Rose.
There are nine school districts across North Dakota and South Dakota piloting the program. Prairie Rose's Mountain Plains team consists of six staff members — Smith, two second grade teachers, a fourth grade teacher, a physical education teacher and a social counselor.
Prairie Rose had its first meeting with Sarah Nielsen of Mountain Plains and some of the other schools in the region in early September.
"We were able to pick some of the different ideas with Adopt a Student that they were using that we felt like we could immediately implement. We also shared some of our ideas and rededicated ourselves to High Five Wednesdays, and we really strengthened our cause with our club program that we’ll run in the winter. It’s very much reciprocal," Smith said.
The school committed to implementing three specific practices: High Five Wednesdays, Thankful Thursdays and Adopt a Student. They will bring their observations to the group's next meeting, Oct. 22.
The school has done High Five Wednesdays in the past.
"On Wednesdays, everyone — staff, students — try to make the conscious effort to give a high five and spread some positive energy and some positive vibes around the school. Staff have High Five Wednesday buttons," Smith said.
Prairie Rose got the idea for Thankful Thursdays from another school district in the group. On Thursdays, students write a letter of gratitude, which serves as a positive reflection.
Lastly, the school will implement Adopt a Student, which aims to identify students who might be struggling socially or emotionally and help them by recognizing their strengths and talents and creating a peer network.
"Those students . . . may not necessarily be on the radar for discipline or positive reinforcement, and they may not have the (recognition) through different scores and quite simply may fall through the cracks," Smith said.
School administration identified the students by looking through the school's data on behavior, teacher input, academic scoring and the MTSS process, which consists of practices that schools use to provide targeted support to struggling students.
Once the students were identified, their parents were contacted and the student was assigned to a classroom.
"It’s a consensual, pre-arranged system where the families are in the loop. (The students) are sort of the friend of the classroom … It’s a student from a different class. We’re just extending the network of peers, essentially," Smith said.
The classroom students are encouraged to talk to their assigned student when they see him/her in recess, the hallways, at lunch.
Smith and Principal Nicole Weiler learned about Mountain Plains through speakers at the Special Education Summer Institute.
"They were undertaking the Mountain Plains portion of the mental health technology transfer center team to incorporate in our region. At the end, they concluded if there’s any interest in rural schools that may feel they qualify, to please contact us. Mrs. Weiler went down to speak with the panel and go the ball rolling that way," Smith said.