School Business Affairs February 2020

asbointl.org SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS | FEBRUARY 2020 27 OKCPS students aren’t the only students facing ACEs, as Oklahoma’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister told Congress. She reported that Oklahoma is a top state for domestic violence, parental incarcera- tion, economic hardship, divorce, parents with a mental illness, and parents abusing drugs or alcohol. Almost half the state’s children have experienced multiple ACEs. “As the number of traumatic events increases, so does a child’s risk of poor school attendance, behavioral issues, and failure to meet grade-level standards,” Hof- meister told Congress. Additional Programs With its own budget and resources from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health, OKCPS has been able to put at least one counselor in every elementary school. All middle and intermediate schools have at least two coun- selors and every OKCPS high school has several. Before EmbraceOKC, five social workers served the general student population, circulating through all 70 buildings. The district now employs 13 social workers, with each serving no more than six buildings. “With counselors in the schools all the time, students know that there is always someone there for them,” Bell comments. The district seeks funding for further provi- sions including teaching students how to build personal resiliency skills. Many of the programs included under a $5 million price tag are prevention-focused, including one that focuses on Pre-K students and another to pro- vide simple mental health screenings to first and second graders. When funding is in place, the district hopes to bring substance abuse treatment and more mental health resources into the schools; the goal is to stop the cycle that can turn into poor behavior. You can see the district’s comprehensive mental health plan at www.okcps.org/cms/lib/OK01913268/Centricity/ Domain/1322/Condensed%20Mental%20Health%20 Plan.pdf Moving Forward “When our kids have survived a horrific event, we have to be able to recognize the signs of trauma and provide the support they need,” Bell says. That support is crucial to helping the students become productive members of the workforce, which is part of the message Debby Hampton, president and CEO of United Way of Central Oklahoma, shares. Hampton says the organization, in addition to fundraising, has applied for grants as well. She said people are starting to connect the dots with ACE scores and the jail pipeline, realizing that if the OKC Schools Compact can provide students the services they need early, the students won’t be in the criminal jus- tice system later. Instead, they’ll be productive members of a thriving workforce. Crook says it’s vital that the city’s businesses under- stand that the $5 million is really an investment in their own success. “We, as a business community, have to address the student’s basic needs before we can expect to have a quality, prepared workforce,” she says. Hampton says the results of the 2017 assessment have been helpful in showing the need for these initiatives. With results of the second assessment (done in Decem- ber) in hand, she’ll be able to show the donors what’s been working. “The key piece that makes this program successful is that it has such high potential for success,” she says. “Donors want to see their dollars work. They want measurement.” Bell says after the second assessment, some of the key focus areas may change, but the goal will remain the same: The students need support. Bell explains that when the students get the help they need, they’ll be more engaged, so negative behavior will decrease and teachers will be able to teach rather than constantly correct student behavior. By helping the stu- dents, Bell says, supporters are also helping the teachers. (The $5 million also includes a compassion fatigue pro- gram for teachers.) Bell and the OKC Compact partners want to help the district students and staff plot a more positive trajectory. She says she’s excited that OKCPS is ahead of the game on mental health and people are rec- ognizing the district for its positive program. “Unfortunately, many of our kids are growing up in a traumatic environment and to think that they’re com- ing into our schools just to read, write and do arithme- tic —they’re not,” Bell says. “We, as a community, have to start recognizing their basic needs and supporting the whole child through innovative partnerships like EmbraceOKC. I’m so proud of this work.” Molly Fleming is public relations coordinator for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Email: mfleming@okcchamber.com The district’s program provide students the services they need early.

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