As The Village Network team works to help youth and their families to build brighter futures, we look for partners that align with our mission, demonstrate a willingness to meet kids where they are, and that recognize the important role mental health plays in their education and futures.
In Youngstown, our team found all of that and more in several charter schools.
“In 2013, The Village Network began working with Stambaugh Charter Academy. It was the first school partnership in the area,” said Northeast Clinical Director Kim Hutchings.
Since then, The Village Network has become an integral part of Stambaugh Charter Academy school culture, providing full-time staff members and a self-contained classroom for youth with more intensive mental health needs.
“I’m so proud of our work at Stambaugh Charter Academy,” commended Charles Baldwin, Northeast Regional Director, “With the support of our team, Stambaugh has outperformed the local school districts with similar student demographics on the state test for the past 9 years and earned an A for growth on the state report card, which demonstrates a significantly higher proficiency rate.”
After The Village Network began working with Stambaugh Charter Academy and began to demonstrate progress, other schools in the area began to come online.
Now, the organization works with six schools in the region, including four in Youngstown and two in Warren: Stambaugh Charter Academy, Summit Academy Secondary School, Summit Academy Elementary School, St. Joseph the Provider School, Summit Academy Secondary School, and Summit Academy Elementary School.
“All six schools are a little different,” Hutchings said, “Each has different expectations, but the overall goals are similar: Increase retention rates and improve grades on report cards.”
Hutchings added, “The first year can be challenging. We are establishing why we are there, and we are building a relationship, so teachers and administrators know we are a support for them.”
When The Village Network begins with a school, it introduces the Collaborative Problem Solving® (CPS) approach. This can be challenging because parents, school officials and teachers can mistake the learning model for something it is not.
“They often think we are letting the kids get away with things, but really we are trying to teach them skills,” Hutchings said. “It is built on relationships.” CPS moves away from a traditional consequences-and-rewards system. It begins from an understanding that students will perform well when they can. So, if they are unable, CPS teaches all parties to resolve issues in a collaborative way.
In addition to utilizing the CPS approach, The Village Network offers groups and operates inclusion rooms (where all the students in those rooms are clients).
Due to privacy laws, The Village Network cannot offer groups if the room has students in it who are not part of the program. The inclusion rooms are geared toward students who have a tough time staying in a regular classroom. While there, they can receive more focused support.
The group sessions are designed to support the educational needs of the students, Hutchings said. The topics vary, and they include impulse control, developing social skills, and learning to focus and pay attention. The goal is to help students advance out of the inclusion rooms and move back into regular classrooms.
A Summit Academy Elementary School in Youngstown, they also lead an after-school program with about 18 to 20 students participating. They spend two-and-a-half hours after school, and the staff reinforces social skills. Recently, the students worked on how to build empathy and show concerns for others.
“The therapist there is very creative, and they have created some of their own games,” Hutchings said.
In addition to work in the classroom, The Village Network Youngstown team also actively participates in Family Nights at the schools.” It’s a way to bring the families, students and faculty together to enjoy a meal and learn more about what is happening at the school,” explained Hutchings.
Summer programs are also held at Stambaugh Charter Academy and Summit Academy Youngstown Elementary, and Summit Academy Warren, helping to ensure that the students continue to progress in their mental health treatment, and that they are provided a safe, consistent environment for emotional stabilization and regulation. “We do a lot of clinical work, skill building, peer interaction, and field trips,” Hutchings said. The kids learn how to behave in the community, and there is a mental health component to the curriculum.
Hutchings said she is pleased with how things have worked out with the six schools. “We have the right staff in the right buildings,” she said. “All of the principals love our staff. They are perfect for the positions they are in and I couldn’t be prouder.”