Rural School District Collaborates with Community to Bring Mental Health Services to Students
"Whenever we saw a
to be addressed,
the school district,
and made it happen."
Kip Farnum, Director of Student Support Services
Campbell Country School District
With a growing and geographically dispersed rural population, Campbell County (Wyoming) School District (CCSD) faces a unique set of challenges in providing mental health services to its students. Despite this, CCSD has improved access to school-based mental health (SMH) services by connecting with community groups and organizations that already care deeply about the well-being of children and families.
CCSD began by assessing its students’ mental health needs. Results showed a broad range of issues, which suggested that a tiered approach—one that employs a combination of broad mental health promotion (universal), prevention and early intervention (targeted), and individual interventions (intensive)—would be the best and most effective way to reach the greatest number of students.
CCSD knew that achieving its vision of delivering effective mental health programming for each tier would require a lot of work to be done well. As Kip Farnum, Director of Student Support Services at CCSD, recalls, “There was much, much time spent on the planning and the development of these programs—it wasn’t something that just happened overnight.”
Once the district agreed on the tiered approach strategy, activities and initiatives were developed that would fulfill needs at each level:
To reach all students (the universal level), the district built an outdoor ropes course that developed cooperation and team-building among students. Intended outcomes included a greater sense of community in the school and more supportive behaviors among peers in the classroom.
For students who were in need of more targeted support, CCSD started an afterschool program that also served as an early intervention initiative for youth at risk of suspension and expulsion.
To support students who needed individualized treatment, the district partnered with local mental health providers to bring mental health services to the schools. This posed something of a challenge, since mental health providers are few and far between in this rural community, there is no public transportation, and the school lacked the physical space to house an SMH provider on-site. The solution: Mental health partners visited the schools in mobile units—much like RVs. In addition, CCSD collaborated with a local hospital to bring in a therapist to work with students who need more intensive intervention. These partners were also on hand to support the community when the district lost four students and a staff member to suicide over a two year period.
To help sustain the quality and impact of this work, CCSD and its partners created an online referral system that allows them to work more efficiently together. School staff are now able to refer to students to mental health agencies so that students can get the help they need, when they need it. Today, there are 126 professionals in various roles who can refer students to mental health services.
Promising data from these varied programs increased both awareness and appreciation among community members and CCSD leaders of the benefits of SMH. The CCSD school board now funds 18 SMH programs throughout the district.