• Our 3-Year Journey: Addressing Students’ Social Emotional and Mental Health Needs with the Help of our School Community and the Gateway Community Action Partnership


    Year 1 (2020-2021 School Year)

    In July of 2020, when I started as Superintendent of Schools, Bridgeton students and staff had just wrapped up the 2019-2020 school year with packets and minimal remote learning. In September 2020, staff returned to buildings for the first three weeks of school to set up classrooms, receive materials, and get the school year off to a strong start, while students returned 100% remote. After a few months into the 2020-2021 school year, the toll remote learning was having on staff and students quickly became apparent. We immediately identified a social emotional wellness universal screener to check in on the wellbeing of our students.

    After the first round of screening in the latter half of year 1, 12% of our district’s roughly 6200 students were in the at-risk group. This information was provided to guidance counselors who conducted small group check-ins and regular sessions with all at-risk students. By the end of the year, we were able to reduce the percentage of at-risk students to 9%.


    Year 2 (2021-2022 School Year)

    We continued screening all students three times a year and provided tiered supports for students. By December 2021, we were struggling with daily staff absences due to mandated COVID-19 quarantines as a result of infections in our school community. Staff who could report safely were consistently asked to support their colleagues who could not report. Our average daily substitute fill rate during this time was 8%. Staff consistently missed opportunities to plan lessons, complete paperwork, and meet with colleagues for professional learning communities. We became keenly aware, we could not continue to address student mental health and wellbeing adequately if our staff members were overworked and stress levels remained high. In response to this challenge, we had discussions with staff, and went to our parents and the Board for a calendar adjustment. We were able to add five additional half days to the district calendar during second semester, which we dedicated to staff wellness across the district. On Wellness Wednesdays, staff could participate in mindfulness activities, plan with colleagues, or catch up on paperwork.


    Year 3 (2022-2023)

    Going into year 3, we maintained our screening schedule and tiered our supports for students. We partnered with Gateway Community Action Partnership, a local non-profit, for a second year. The organization secured grant funding to provide licensed Clinical Practitioners who work across the district with our most at-risk students and their families. Through this and other interventions, we have consistently seen a reduction in the percentage of at-risk students, which is now at 6%. Our parents also participate in the screening of their students, which keeps parents abreast of their children’s social and emotional wellbeing.

    All instructional staff across the district are trained in trauma-informed practices and resiliency in light of the pandemic and our students’ daily struggles. Across Bridgeton Public Schools, we believe in collaboration, community partnerships, and the importance of capitalizing on the expertise found in our school community. Today, teams of professionals and parents come together regularly to build success plans for our students and to address any issues impacting student success head-on. Our district is well equipped with an army of practitioners to include School and Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Crisis Intervention Specialists, Social and Emotional Learning Specialists, Board Certified Behavior Specialists, Nurse Practitioners, Pediatric Psychiatrists, and Restorative Practices Leaders. We place a strong value on teamwork and growth in our district, and our motto is, “We are #StrongerTogether!!”