Kannapolis schools ‘dogged’ to provide for student needs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kannapolis City Schools address mental health problems in the school system through prevention, early intervention, collaboration and referrals.
“We’re pretty dogged making sure students get what they need,” said Angela Ward, who works on the school system’s student services staff.
The school system has an active student services management team and a mental crisis unit that can be relied upon during tragedy. Each school also has a school counselor.
“The whole mindset is, ‘What can we do to help our kids?’ ” Ward said.
She added that Kannapolis staff, administration and teachers look at “the whole child,” not just their grades.
Students in different stages of life struggle with different mental health problems as they grow and face different stressors.
According to Ward, younger students can find it difficult to adjust to a new environment, such as a new school or changes in their families. In addition, they can deal with mistrust and struggle to follow directions.
Others may not feel included. They may need help blending in and becoming a part of the group.
Many times underlying issues can cause these students to physically act out, she said.
Older students deal with a completely different set of stresses.
“There’s a lot of pressure on kids,” Ward said.
The middle and high school years are when many cliques and social divisions begin to occur.
“Kids start dividing themselves,” she said.
In high school, grades start counting toward college applications, and some students work part- or full-time, she added.
Older students also often have anxiety about dating.
“That’s very serious to kids, and we take it seriously,” she said.
Kannapolis City Schools address all these and even more issues in a variety of ways.
“We are actively involved from a prevention and early intervention standpoint,” Ward said.
Anti-bullying and respect are a fundamental aspect of the school’s character education curriculum that focuses on physical and emotional development of students.
Parents are strongly encouraged to take an active role in their child’s education. The system reaches out to parents through parent nights, reading nights, math nights, open houses, a Parent Academy, positive parenting programs and other parent-inclusive events. In addition, the administrators and teachers have an open-door policy with students and parents to discuss concerns.
Kannapolis City Schools staff work to be creative and supportive in their efforts to keep students in school.
They provide clubs, like an after-school running program for girls, and support groups, such as a divorce adjustment groups, for students who need them.
Students who struggle to fit in are often matched up with student ambassadors and the system employs school visits and meetings to help students adapt during times of transition.
“We try to do what we can to keep kids in school,” Ward said.
Teachers and staff are also trained how to detect mental health needs in their early stages and how to effectively communicate with children, parents, counselors and administrators about them.
If teachers are concerned about a student, they contact the parent or guardians.
Ward said that many times band, choral, drama or other arts teachers, as well as coaches, are the most valuable resources when it comes to spotting problems early on, due to the amount of personal interaction they have with students.
The school system can’t do it alone, however, Ward readily admits.
That’s when valuable partnerships with organizations outside the schools come into play.
Kannapolis City Schools collaborates with the Department of Social Services, Hospice, Cooperative Christian Ministries, school resource officers and many other resources.
Hospice runs a program that helps children and teens cope with death in their families.
Ward said the school system works closely with Department of Social Services and Cabarrus Health Alliance programs that go into homes and work with families, such as Social Services’ in-home family preservation staff.
“We want to help the individual child, but we also look beyond the child,” she said.
Sometimes that means seeing if the child’s family has any specific needs and helping them access those services, she added.
Those needs aren’t always specifically linked with mental health, she said.
Often, anxiety can be linked to physical needs. A student may not have a pair of tennis shoes, or may have an underlying dental or medical need that keeps them from fully engaging in their educational experience.
Cooperative Christian Ministries worked to provide for the physical needs such as food and clothing when the mill shut down several years ago.
“They are wonderful in our community,” Ward said.
If they can’t make those connections at school, they talk to parents and try to get those services elsewhere, Ward said, adding, “There’s a real commitment here to help kids and their families.”
When students’ problems go beyond what Kannapolis City Schools can handle with classroom intervention, parent conferences or school counselors, the school system will refer students to local health-care professionals.
Cardinal Innovations is one of the major mental health-care providers the school system refers students to, as well as Safe Alliance, CMC-NorthEast Medical Center, Daymark, Monarch N.C., RHA Behavioral Health, and dozens of other agencies and practitioners, Ward said.
Many of these agencies are able to work with low-income students as well, using Medicaid funding.
Beyond anything, Ward said, Kannapolis City Schools strives to be a place for students to grow, learn and launch into a great adult life.
We want to “try to support the kids to be successful,” she said.