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SU partners with South Middleton schools to provide district students free mental health counseling services

The Sentinel - 2/9/2024

Feb. 9—Starting in March, Shippensburg University will once again provide free mental health counseling services to South Middleton School District students who otherwise have limited access due to insurance gaps.

The school board Monday renewed a partnership agreement where the university will provide counseling interns while the district will provide confidential space in which to operate during- or after-school clinics.

"This is just one part of our comprehensive approach so students are afforded the mental health services that they need," said Alex Smith, district director of student services.

The district first partnered with the university's Growing Edges community clinic program in 2021-22, Smith said. "On average, they have provided us with about two interns per school year that served six to 10 of our students in grades six through 12."

So far, the partnership with South Middleton has focused on the secondary grade levels and has been based at the Yellow Breeches Middle School and Boiling Springs High School, Smith said. The plan is to continue this pattern.

There has been a lapse in service so far in 2023-24 in part because the interns who were assigned to South Middleton in prior years have graduated from the master's degree program at the university, Smith said.

Before the service could resume, the district would need to receive and process all the consent forms from the families of eligible students and allow the new interns to acclimate themselves to the school buildings, he said.

"You may ask how do we know this service is the most appropriate instead of other types of mental health or community-based supports," Smith said. "It's all driven through our student assistance program."

To be eligible, the student and the parents must agree to a needs assessment as provided through TeenLine, Smith said. This type of entry level care focuses on cases where insurance gaps exist and where students are trying to cope with a budding or at-risk issue such as anxiety, grief or the loss of stability due to a broken home or divorce, he said.

In a typical case, the student meets with the intern once a week for one-on-one counseling over a period of six to 15 weeks, Smith said. "We hope to see growth within the student over the course of that time."

Referrals are made, as needed, to more intensive levels of care.

Shippensburg University started the Growing Edges program in 2008 and provides the free service to eligible students in the Big Spring and Shippensburg Area school districts, said Ford Brooks, program director and a professor in the counselor education department.

The university also operates a free community clinic on-campus at Shippen Hall and in two rooms at the Grace Place building at 21 N. Prince St. in Shippensburg, Brooks said. Aside from providing services to people on the margins, the program offers graduate students a supervised, hands-on clinical experience in a community setting where they help people cope with a variety of issues, he said.

The level of activity of the program depends on the number of graduate students who sign up to be interns, Brooks said. Part of his job is to brief the university students on the opportunities the program presents in their pursuit of a master's degree, he said.

In recent years, the program has had about six doctorate students supervise 16 master's level interns handling 80 to 100 clients at any time.

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