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Clinton schools, Wheeler Clinic propose joint mental health services

Principal Keri Hagness presented the plan to the Board of Education May 17. After a difficult pandemic year and remote schooling, Hagness said the administration has been seeing issues with trauma among families, and that a higher level of support will be needed.

“We’ve seen across the nation the increase in the therapeutic needs for families and our students,” Hagness said, according to a recording of the Board of Education meeting. “We are concerned in terms of the support services, and are we meeting the needs of students in a comprehensive way?”

This is not a new discussion for Clinton Public Schools — Hagness and Special Services Director Kim Pearce have been working on looking for alternative models for increased support for years, according to the audio. This specific conversation has been going on for two years, they said. The pair discussed chronic absenteeism and family-based support, which Pearce said they had struggled to address for a long time.

“And then the pandemic was upon us,” Pearce said, referencing how the conversation surrounding support shifted. “We saw the new challenges upon us, not only with the students who are back in front of us, thankfully, but, also the students who are continuing to be at home and struggling through the pandemic.”

While exploring options that would increase support, the pair began meeting with the Wheeler Clinic, which has trained staff and consults with school districts across Connecticut. When looking for a partner, Pearce said that collaboration was important so administrators could eventually take over the program themselves.

They looked at having a clinician who would be dedicated to work with a set group of students, allowing the school psychologist and social worker to focus on the remaining student population, Pearce said.

Wheeler’s team is also trained in trauma-based approaches, which Hagness said will help teachers and staff in their work with students.

They also spoke with Wheeler about adding a special education teacher to the team. If the plan goes through, Wheeler would supply one such teacher and one of Clinton’s teachers would continue to work in the program.

“What’s really important here is the clinical supervision that would be provided to those staff members, including our staff members and the Wheeler staff members in terms of oversight,” Pearce said during the meeting.

Something that drew the district to working with Wheeler is the fact that families can work directly with staff and the clinician, establishing a relationship that can provide both students and parents with needed support, Hagness said

“I think that’s really a piece that we’ve been looking to have that’s integral to the success of a lot of the students who struggle the most,” she said at the meeting.

This work should help keep students in the district, as students will not need to be sent elsewhere to receive the help they need, said Hagness, who is also looking to increase trauma-based approaches as time goes on.

Work will be completed over the summer to create an entry plan so staff can hit the ground running.

If approved, the program will be partially funded by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, which is aimed at helping address the impact the pandemic had on students.

The contract, agreement, and official costs will be brought to the Board of Education for final approval once an initial agreement has been reached.

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