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01/2008 School Based Health Centers Provide Vital Services

For the past 14 years, clinicians from River Valley Counseling Center, Inc. (RVCC) have been providing mental health services within Holyoke public schools.  RVCC receives public funding from the MA Department of Public Health to provide emotional and mental health services to high school students who visit any of RVCC’s three School Based Health Centers (SBHC).  These SBHC were created in Holyoke schools to address the city’s response to significantly high rates of infant mortality, adolescent pregnancy and parenting, substance abuse, school absenteeism and dropouts.  Having mental health services available within the schools allows students direct access to mental health professionals. 
In addition to the services provided at the SBHC, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently awarded more resources through an “Enhanced Mental Health Grant.”  This funding is to provide a higher level of services, including pre-treatment screening for mental health and substance abuse problems.  Jeff Kassis, Clinical Director, states, “This program is focusing on the early recognition and treatment of depression.  During adolescence, systems of depression and low self-esteem have a profound negative affect on student academic performance and need to be professionally addressed.” 
Expanded services and additional support for school-based mental health services comes from the “Community and Schools Program,” funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.  Under the leadership of Program Coordinator Montserrate DelaCruz, LADC-I, this program makes a broad range of resources available to schools and other groups in the community, such as trainings for teachers and parents on issues such as depression, anger management, stress management and substance abuse. “The schools are managing so many complex issues; they are grateful for the training and support the program is able to offer.  Recently, we organized a training focusing on Asperger’s Syndrome and psychotropic medication for adolescents and children. More training with various topics are being planned for the future,” says Kassis. 

In addition to school-based services for children and adolescents, RVCC has an on-going contract with Girls Inc., a community-based social service agency in Holyoke.  These services provide the facilitation of therapeutic art groups for at-risk adolescent girls between the ages of nine and thirteen.. The focus of these groups is to build confidence and improve both body image and self-esteem.

RVCC also provides services and a specific program, Project STAR, Support for Teens at Risk at both Chicopee high schools.  Access to this program is also available at RVCC’s neighborhood clinic located at 147 Grape St., Chicopee, and through outreach if needed.  Project S.T.A.R is a teen pregnancy prevention program that began in 2003 and targets at risk males and females ages 12-21 years old.  The program provides classroom educational trainings, comprehensive counseling services and referrals to community resources that support high risk adolescents.  The majority of program funding is provided by the United Way of Pioneer Valley and third party reimbursements.  For more information about Project STAR, please call Jane Desmarais at 540-1121.

Recently, RVCC hired Martha Scott, LCSW to oversee all of the school-based services.  Ms. Scott works closely with the Clinical Director, Jeff Kassis to insure that students, their parents and teachers are receiving professional clinical support services.  Ms. Scott has a long history working with children and adolescents and was formerly employed for over ten years at MSPCC.  She is an excellent child and adolescent clinician with a clear understanding of the resources available in this area.  You may contact Martha Scott at 540-1133 for additional information.

For a listing of Holyoke, Chicopee and Granby schools where these services are available please call 1(800) 286-8221.