Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay Launches New Program for At-Risk Students; by Teresa Stepzinski

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay Launches New Program for At-Risk Students; by Teresa Stepzinski

Article excerpt

Byline: teresa.stepzinski@jacksonville.com

ORANGE PARK -- Clay County school district middle school students with behavioral, mental health or emotional issues -- that if left unaddressed can put their lives and education at risk -- can get help through a new school-based program beginning this month.

Superintendent Addison Davis said the district is partnering with Motivational Coaches of America in a program to give students access to behavioral and emotional health services at school at no cost to the students, families or school system. The Clay County School Board approved the program last year.

"The intent of this initiative is to take proactive measures and steps in order to address at-risk students who exhibit undesired behaviors in the seventh and eighth grade," Davis said Wednesday. "The focus of this initiative will be to inspire, to motivate, to engage our youth for positive action. And to move them in a direction where at-risk students will no longer have an outlier or an avenue to drop out."

The behavioral health-services company will provide trained, licensed mental health therapists -- known as motivational coaches -- who will be on campus all day. They will work with students identified as having behavioral, attendance and academic concerns. The coaches will work with the students individually and in groups, said Julio Avael, company founder and chief executive officer.

Davis said the program initially will be implemented at three district junior high schools: Orange Park, Wilkinson and Green Cove Springs -- half of the county's junior highs. The district plans to expand it to all junior highs in the 2018-19 school year, he said.

He said Orange Park, Wilkinson and Green Cove Springs junior high schools were selected for the initial pilot program based on student needs.

He said school officials are working to identify about 75 students in each school. Ultimately, 450 will be involved in the program. The main focus on junior high students is to address at-risk students at an earlier stage, he said.

"These are students who exhibited undesired behaviors academically, attendance wise, and behaviorally," Davis said. "Students will learn how to overcome academic anxieties, behavior issues, anger management, bullying, chemical dependence while learning how to foster positive relationships with peers, teachers, parents, and the entire community."

"In this school district alone, we will be adding seven motivational coaches " Avael said. The student and his/her family are consulted, and must

consent to participate in the program, he said.

Avael said most children referred to the program meet early warning indicators in behavior or academics. Depending on a child's specific needs, the youngster is provided individual or group counseling, or both.

Davis said the program uses effective strategies "to connect students to the resources they need.

"However, this is the first initial push to focus on students mental and behavior health. This strategy will lead to greater attendance, social interaction, and academic focus," Davis said.

Clay County has one of the highest rate increases -- 38 percent -- in the region for children who were Baker-Acted within a five-year span, according to a Florida Department of Children and Families report last year. …

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