Friday, 4 January 2013

Unique pilot program to educate on mental health

Local high schools interested in program

Eleven campuses throughout Tulare and Kings Counties will soon offer its students two new school-based, mental-health programs.

The new programs, which have been in the planning for more than a year, allow middle and high school students to learn the signs and symptoms of suicide, and teaches about researching mental health topics to educate and help reduce the stigma, stereotype and discrimination associated with mental illness.

Reduction and Elimination of Stigma through Art Targeted Education — RESTATE — is designed to educate high school students about mental health issues through specially-designed curriculum that uses the media arts as a way to promote awareness and understanding of mental health.

The plan is to offer it on a voluntary basis, to selected students, age 16 and older, for one-semester in the spring and two-semesters during the 2013-2014 school year, said Adam Valencia, TCOE Choices Program Supervisor. Among the schools that have showed an interest in the program are Porterville High and Granite Hills high schools.

“My intent is to open this program to all the sites in Porterville,” Valencia said. “We’d like to stretch it out as much as poossible. Right now, we have about $15,000 to $30,000 in funds for each school but if there are more schools interested, it just means less funding for each site.”

Students working individually, or in teams, will take the knowledge they gain, and along with artistic or technical skills, create their own artistic project to address an approved community mental health topic in order to educate and help reduce the stigma, stereotype and discrimination associated with mental illness.

“It’s a model I’ve created myself, using the Mental Health First Aid program as a mold, that will serve as a pilot program,” said Noah Whitaker, community outreach manager, tulare County Health and Human Services Agency. “But we’re doing it in a unique way, taking the training to high school art teachers, without bringing in outside trainers. The teachers will then teach the students.”

The funding available for each participating school can be used on film equipment, software, or development of specific curriculum.

“This can be used for cameras, computer technology, editing equipment and to assist students to attend special training or workshops. It provides flexibility to schools,” Whitaker said. “Our goal is to be effective and have a strong evaluation before we make it available in the future. We’re focusing on its effectiveness.”

The RESTATE module provides an overview of mental health, including history, career opportunities, the role of county mental health, local needs and available resources, as well as common barriers to treatment specific to the community.

Students will choose an approved community mental health topic and film public service announcements that will be used to promote community awareness.

The SOS program, along with additional classes, provides seventh graders the opportunity to participate in a related service-learning project. The program will provide schools the training they need to implement and sustain the SOS Prevention Program. Guided by advisors, the program teaches youth how to identify the symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation in themselves or friends and encourages them to seek help through the use of the ACT — Acknowledge, Care, Tell — technique.

The new programs, a partnership of Tulare County Department of Education’s Choices Program and Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency, will be implemented at 11 schools — six in Tulare County and four in Kings County — as early as February, following final approval from the Tulare County Board of Supervisors February meeting.

The schools will receive training and services for three years, after which, the hope is that schools can continue with the program on their own.

RESTATE and SOS are offered through the Region VII Student Mental Health Initiative, which includes Tulare and Kings Counties, via the Tulare County Office of Education’s Choices Prevention Programs unit along with the Kings County Office of Education.

Schools interested in participating in the SOS or RESTATE programs can call Choices Program Supervisor Adam Valencia or René Moncada at 651-0155.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.

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