WISD explores partnership that could fill a void in mental health services for students

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Chris Roark, [email protected]

In an effort to provide students with more mental health treatment options than are available in Ellis County today, Waxahachie ISD has entered into discussions with a North Texas outpatient provider about a possible partnership.

Last week, members of the district’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) heard a presentation from Mind Above Matter, a company that provides mental health programs for adults and adolescents in grades six and up.

Mind Above Matter, which has been around for 11 years, has physical locations in Keller, Burleson and Arlington. For the past three years, he has provided programs in North Texas school districts. Currently, it offers programs in Keller, Grapevine-Colleyville, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Birdville, Decatur, Fort Worth, and Aledo ISDs.

Angela Hodge, community outreach coordinator for Mind Above Matter, said a key part of the organization’s focus is intensive group therapy through a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and d an intensive outpatient program (IOP).

PHP and IOP are designed for people whose quality of life is impaired by mental health symptoms. Its objective is to prevent admission or relapse into hospitalization or accommodation.

PHP runs for six to eight weeks, five hours a day, and IOP runs for three hours a day, three days a week.

Hodge said PHP and IOP, commonly referred to as Level 4 levels of care for mental health treatment, do not exist in Ellis County. But she said they were needed for those who received acute hospitalisation, known as level 6.

“That’s where a lot of our kids come from,” Hodge said. “The problem is that since there is no access to the PHP level of care, they just go through the hospital. They go out, talk to their counselors, and then go straight back to acute care. These issues are not addressed at a real level. And that’s where we come in. The natural level of care is right down to the PHP programming level.

In addition to PHP and IOP, Mind Above Matter provides mental health assessments to determine the most appropriate level of therapeutic care, outpatient therapy that includes individual and family sessions, and medication management.

Adults who participate in PHP and IOP programs attend brick-and-mortar locations, while students receive on-campus programming.

Hodge said offering her services to school districts helps remove a major barrier to getting help — access. She said the closest places to Waxahachie to receive PHP and IOP programming are DeSoto and Arlington.

“We see those barriers, so we want to bring that to the school district so it’s an after-school program for kids,” Hodge said.

Hodge said students attend the program for the last hour of the school day so they don’t miss an entire day of classwork for several days. She said being out of class for so long would only add to their stress levels.

Hodge said the process begins with an assessment done over the phone to determine why the child is seeking treatment, the treatment history and what the child is seeking to accomplish. Hodge said if the program isn’t a fit, Mind Above Matter will help connect the family with other providers.

Once a student is registered, they will have two and a half hours of treatment and two and a half hours of vocational training. These include self-awareness, coping skills, assertive and reflective communication skills, the importance of boundaries and how to implement them, etc.

Hodge said Mind Above Matter takes a collaborative approach with the community they are in to make a difference.

“What we want is for our kids to be excited about getting mental health treatment,” Hodge said. “So we introduce music, yoga, art, dance, sports. We want to involve the community in this. We want it to be a group effort.

Whitney Dixon, vice president of growth and development for Mind Above Matter, said when it launches in a district, it starts with a master’s level, fully licensed therapist. This therapist will typically handle a workload of up to 10-12 students. She said that once that mark is reached, Mind Above Matter will hire a second therapist if there is enough space in the district.

Hodge said there was no cost to the school district for the program. She said the district provides space for group therapy and Mind Above Matter provides the counsellors, programming, curriculum, etc.

Although there is a cost for families, Hodge said the program accepts all major insurances, such as Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Cigna Behavioral Health and more, as well as some Medicaids. Hodge said he also offers other reduced rates, cash payment options and scholarship opportunities based on financial need or hardship.

Ginger Robinson, director of educational support and counseling services for WISD, said there are still details to be determined before continuing with the program, such as space on campus. Robinson said she was visiting GCSD this week to see how they implemented the model.

But Robinson is optimistic the partnership can begin later this year. She expects to discuss the program with the WISD board at an upcoming meeting.

“We’re looking to get started as soon as we’re done working out some loose ends,” Robinson said. “It would be so beneficial to our students that they wouldn’t have to travel to Fort Worth or Arlington for service.”

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