SAEGERTOWN — In response to an increase in emotional and mental strain by the COVID-19 pandemic, PENNCREST School Board is considering the creation of a therapeutic classroom for students in grades seven through 12.
The classroom, should it be created, will operate out of Cambridge Springs Junior-Senior High School, but be open to students across the district.
Patti Fiely, PENNCREST's director of student services, said the district has seen a "significant increase" in students requiring in-patient days at hospitals and/or referrals for partial hospitalization due to mental health matters. One high school — though she did not specify which for privacy reasons — has seen 17 students in such conditions during the school year.
"It's about three or four times what it is in a typical school year, and that's just coming out of one building," she said.
According to Fiely, PENNCREST is dealing with a lack of mental health services at this time, with programs having their available spots for students all filled.
The classroom would primarily focus on improving the mental health of the students, with a secondary focus on keeping the students up-to-date academically. Placement in the classroom is intended to be temporary, with the goal of either having the student return to standard classes or be referred to another program once a spot opens up.
"Our focus is really mainly on the mental health stability of the students that would be referred to the program," she said. "There would be a heavy focus on group and individual counseling every day, and the social and emotional stability."
The classroom would be open to any student the district feels needs the help.
"They don't have to have a mental health diagnosis; they don't have to have a medical access card; it's not insurance dependent; they don't have to be a special education student," Fiely said. "We really would be able to refer any student who needed that service for any length of time to that classroom."
While attending the classroom, the enrolled students would operate off of a different schedule from the remainder of the student body. Fiely said they would arrive and leave the school at different times, and would not interact with the wider student population.
The district plans to staff the classroom with a special education teacher and a mental health specialist. Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said the former position would likely be an internal transfer within the district, while the latter would more than likely be contracted to an outside service.
Glasspool estimated that between contracting the mental health specialist and getting supplies for the room, it will cost the district between $74,000 and $94,000 to get the classroom up-and-running. However, responding to a question from Glasspool, Fiely said PENNCREST may be able to save money through the classroom, as the district sometimes has to pay for out-of-district services given to students.
Board member Tim Brown voiced strong support for the classroom, and even pushed to have things taken further, asking whether the classroom alone would be enough. Fiely called the classroom "a start," and said further steps may be taken, such as trauma training for all teachers.
According to Fiely, the classroom would be the first of its kind for students in upper grade levels in the area. While Conneaut and PENNCREST school districts have a shared therapeutic classroom with a similar format, that is for students in elementary grade levels.
Board members are expected to vote on the measure at their meeting tonight at 7.
Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.