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University to lead ‘Safe Schools’ project

By : Eric Coker

The University is leading the effort in a project designed to create a safer environment for 28,000 children in 10 Broome County school districts.

A team from the College of Community and Public Affairs’ Social Work Department, the Decker School of Nursing and the School of Education is providing program development and evaluation for the Safe, Healthy Attitudes Require Education (SHARE) collaborative. Broome/Tioga BOCES recently received a four-year, $5.6 million federal grant from the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative, one of only four awarded in New York state in 2009, and one of the 6 percent of those submitted nationwide to be funded.

The University will receive 57 percent of the grant money for program development and evaluation, said Laura Bronstein, chair of the Social Work Department and director of the Institute for Intergenerational Studies.

“This is about service: providing something to the community that it needs and has asked for,” Bronstein said of the project. “It’s about interprofessional education of our students at Binghamton University. And it’s about research: evaluating what’s going on in schools and where our methods are and are not working.”

BOCES initially contacted the University’s Center for Best Practices in Full-Service Community Schools, one of the two divisions of the Institute for Intergenerational Studies, about developing a grant proposal. The Binghamton team then worked with BOCES to establish a tiered system that includes five goals:

• develop and maintain a safe school environment by supporting effective communication and partnerships among parents, schools, and community supports to reduce violence or bullying;

• decrease alcohol, tobacco and other drug use among teens;

• establish and maintain behavioral, social, and emotional supports within the school environment;

• increase access to community-based and in-school mental health services;

• improve access to school-readiness supports for pre-school children and their families.

Lisa Blitz, assistant professor in the Social Work Department and program coordinator for SHARE, described the model’s first tier as a “universal” assessment for students in pre-K to grade 12.

“SHARE will support policy review and development on the district level and culture change at the school level to create environments where children are feeling safe,” she said. “The program will provide services to enhance the districts’ current initiatives, and help them develop new ideas, so schools will provide a positive learning experience where students are able to develop independence, good communication skills, and positive relationships with their peers and teachers.”

Students who have needs for additional services to reach these goals would move to a targeted service.  This second tier of service will primarily consist of small group counseling and psychoeducation, and will be provided by the University and Lourdes Hospital Youth Services, a primary service partner in the SHARE collaborative. The third tier would include school- or home-based counseling provided by the University and Lourdes, or youth may be referred out for specialized services in the community.

Elizabeth Anderson, assistant professor in the School of Education and co-director of the Center for Best Practices in Full-Service Community Schools, used an anti-bullying lesson as an example. Everyone in a class would receive the lesson, but some students may need to take part in a smaller group for additional assistance.

“A student in that smaller group could still be prone to bullying,” she said. “Maybe that student gets one-on-one or family counseling with a school social worker or a social work intern from the grant.”

                                                                                                                               Measurements in six areas will be used to determine the project’s progress. Candace Mulcahy, assistant professor in the School of Education, will serve as lead local evaluator and supervise a team of three master’s degree students: one from social work, one from education, and one from nursing. An external evaluator will also participate, Bronstein said.

Bronstein, Blitz, Anderson and Susan Terwilliger, a clinical lecturer in Decker and co-director of the Center for Best Practices in Full-Service Community Schools, all stressed the importance of the three professional disciplines working together on the project.

Sixteen master’s of social work students will spend two days a week in Broome County schools. Four experienced MSWs will serve as assistant coordinators and supervise a group of four MSW students each in the tiered work.

“The students will provide individual, group and family counseling, and referrals to other agencies,” Bronstein said. “We anticipate that referrals to local agencies will increase because we will identify more needs. Only when there is a long waiting list or inadequate staffing will the MSW students provide the services.”

Two part-time nursing faculty members will supervise 25 graduate and undergraduate nursing students who will assist school nurses with assessing health needs and coordinating follow-up care and services, Terwilliger said.

In SOE, two doctoral-level students will serve as education-behavior specialists, helping districts look at ways to provide behavioral supports for some students, Anderson said.

“Part of our goal is to educate the next generation of professionals  to learn how to work together to meet the complex needs of today’s children and families,” Bronstein said.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our graduate students to not only apply what they’re learning in class, but to start working across disciplines in ways that could transform education,” Anderson said.

2009-10 is a “planning year” for the project, Blitz said, as meetings with superintendents and principals are helping to determine how the University team will divide its resources when services begin on Sept. 1, 2010. Other key partners in the SHARE collaborative include Broome County Sheriff’s Office, Broome County Probation and Broome County Office of Mental Health.

The Binghamton team leaders believe it is important to support school districts in their ongoing efforts to improve the lives of local children.

“We saw a need and we want to help children succeed,” Terwilliger said.

“Let’s break down the silos, look at community resources and be as effective and efficient as possible,” Anderson said. “We need to meet the social, emotional and health needs of children for them to have positive academic outcomes.”                                       


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Last Updated: 10/14/08