26 FEBRUARY 2020 | SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS asbointl.org EmbraceOKC Several community partners are working with Okla- homa City Public Schools to provide help to students, teachers, and ultimately to the city’s workforce. With its existing OKC Public Schools Compact partners — the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, the City of Oklahoma City, and the United Way of Central Okla- homa — OKCPS launched EmbraceOKC (www.okcps. org/embraceokc), an initiative to obtain more mental health supports for the state’s largest district. “For so long, we’ve expected students to just sit down and learn. But these kids are just trying to get through the day. They’re trying to survive,” says Teresa Rose Crook, vice chair of the chamber’s education committee. “They have to have their basic needs met, such as feeling safe and loved, before they can even start to learn.” A child who has an adverse childhood experience (ACE) may not be focused on learning at school. The OKC Public Schools Compact hopes to raise $5 million to help fund mental health services and programs in the schools. OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel says he is optimistic about what mental health programs can do for the students. “I hope that through this work every one of our 45,000 students and their families feel the arms of Oklahoma City being wrapped around them,” he says. “I’ve said many times that until we work to meet our students’ most basic, foundational needs—food, warmth, emotional and physical safety—many of our students will continue to struggle to find academic success.” Handle With Care The fundraising goal has not been met yet, but that has not stopped the school district from launching some pro- grams in the interim. One new program currently underway is Handle With Care, which supports students who have experienced a traumatic event. A child who has an adverse childhood experience (ACE) may not be focused on learning at school. When an Oklahoma City student is the victim of or a witness to a crime, the Oklahoma City Police Department notifies OKCPS district leaders. The dis- trict’s Student Support Services team advises the child’s school team that the student should be “handled with care.” No specific details are given to the school team; they are simply alerted to the student’s possible need for extra care and understanding. This year, almost 400 students have been referred for Handle With Care. Because the city is larger than the Oklahoma City Public Schools district boundaries, the referrals from the Oklahoma City Police Department include students from surrounding districts as well. In those cases, the police department calls OKCPS Student Support Services Executive Director Teri Bell, who then reaches out to the other districts, including Putnam City, Edmond, and Mid-Del schools. Bell travels the state with Deputy Chief Paco Balder- rama from the Oklahoma City Police Department, help- ing other municipalities formulate ways to implement a similar program. Having spoken at several county meet- ings, in districts, and at the Oklahoma Association of Chief of Police’s monthly meeting, Bell has also met with the state department of human services and Oklahoma County Chief Juvenile Court Judge Trevor Pemberton. State of Oklahoma officials have taken notice of the program and established a statewide Handle With Care committee, which is actively promoting the initiative. Members of the group spoke at a legislative interim study in October, prompting legislation being written around the program. EmbraceOKC helps students focus on learning. OKCPS Student Support Services Executive Director Teri Bell speaking at a state senate interim study meeting.