Mental health pilot program at NF schools helps provide support for students

Posted at 4:56 PM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 17:47:48-05

The Niagara Falls City School District is making sure it provides academic and behavioral support for students through a mental health pilot program called Behavioral and Emotional Screening Systems, or BESS.

"We know that a child's early childhood experience in school really sets them on the trajectory for the rest of their school career," said Richard Carella, administrator for curriculum and instruction at NFCSD.

The pandemic has created difficult circumstances for students, as the face of education has changed.

Carella said students who aren't doing well emotionally or socially may have trouble learning because of it.

"We need to do everything we can to make sure that they experience academic success," he said.

He added that social and emotional issues can manifest as certain behaviors that make it difficult for kids to learn. Other times they can manifest as poor attendance, students becoming withdrawn or disruptive behavior

The screening - which began in the fall - allows them to identify the students who are in need. They're first starting with students who are only in the hybrid model, and only those kindergarten through second grade.

"We wanted to start small and get a feel for the kind of data that assessment reveals," said Carella.

Teachers would observe their students' behavior over six to eight weeks, then answer a 20 question screening.

Carella said results are broken down into three categories, or tiers.

"What we learned is that most students would be in the first tier, or they would be functioning within the normal range and wouldn't need any interventions. Then a certain percentage of students would be slightly at risk and need some more assistance," he said.

Assistance or intervention would involve support from teachers, school counselors or social workers to get students back on track.

Carella said the district is looking at extending the screening to students through sixth grade next year.