February 23rd, 2024

CASA Classroom will offer additional mental health support to students

By Brendan Miller on January 20, 2024.

A CASA classroom is set to open in Medicine Hat to support students with complex mental health issues. The Medicine Hat Public School Division is opening the program at Southview School to students between Grades 4-6.--HANDOUT PHOTO FROM THE MEDICINE HAT PUBLIC SCHOOL DIVISION


The Medicine Hat Public School Division is welcoming the addition of a CASA Mental Health Classroom that will support students with complex mental health issues.

The province is expanding in-school support for students by spending $10 million this year to open three new mental health support classrooms, including one at Southview Community School.

A Child and Adolescent Services Association mental health classroom can support up to 12 students across the district and is staffed with a full-time teacher, mental health therapist and mental health aide as well as other support staff to ensure students are receiving treatment they need to excel in school and life.

“I am proud to support a government that puts funding forward for mental health in the classroom,” said Justin Wright, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat. “As they learn, students deserve all we can offer to ensure their needs are met for a successful future.”

“I’m encouraged to see more of these classrooms opening across the province to help address mental health concerns we are seeing in the classroom,” said Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides. “The partnership between CASA and the respective schools will continue to find solutions to best meet the need and provide adequate care to students.”

In Medicine Hat the division will be opening the program to students in Grades 4, 5 and 6. Schools and parents will work together to identify which students they feel might benefit from the program.

“It’s to address mental health and to support the mental health of youth,” said Tracy Hensel, associate superintendent of student services. “And we wanted to get them at a young age so that we have programs already available once they’re in middle school in high school.”

Students will receive treatments and support to help manage mental health conditions, medication support and individual and group therapy.

The care team will also provide education for parents and caregivers and help children transition back to their home, school and health team.

A therapist will provide each student with an individualized intervention and treatment plan that will be practised in the classroom.

“There’s a team of supports and they all have different roles, but the ultimate goal is that they’re working interchangeably,” said Chelsea Hallick, co-ordinator of diverse learning services. “Because of the robust support from the team everyone’s going to be focused in on the treatment plan as well as the focus on literacy, numeracy and social emotional learning skills in the classroom.”

The program includes a therapy support navigator to help support parents with weekly meetings and helping parents access additional supports available in the community.

Caregivers will also participate in a weekly support group that will provide support with mental health conditions.

A doctor and nurse will also be attached to the team of mental health professionals and will be able to monitor how the students respond to treatment and therapy while they’re at school.

“The students are in the classroom in real time and the medical people can see them in real time and what that looks like in school,” said Hensel.

The public school board is hoping the program will also benefit a system of delivering support to students across the division.

“We’re going to have the opportunity to work with this team of professionals and learn from them, so what do we need to be doing?” Hansel said. “And when we look at levels of students anxiety, how can we better support some of these things in our classrooms?”

“We also have the opportunity of learning more and more about mental health … We’re hoping to build their capacity and understanding,” adds Hallick.

The program supports students with one or more mental health diagnoses and who have previously received mental health treatment but have not shown notable improvement.

The program also requires students to have a family doctor, nurse practitioner or psychiatrist.

“I’m excited,” Hansel said. “I think we all benefit; Medicine Hat in general and eventually the whole southeastern Alberta, you know, as it expands and … hopefully all families will get to benefit from this.”

The CASA classroom opens at Southview School on Feb. 5 and will run until the end of the school year. The CASA classroom will reopen for a second intake next school year during the first semester.

“I think this is an amazing opportunity for our community and our division,” Hallick said. “Our students are coming to us and we want to provide them success beyond academics.”

Students will participate in the CASA classroom for half the school year, or five months. After completing the program the team supports their transition back to their usual school for another half of the school year.

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