Report: North Allegheny School District is seeing an increase in students and families using mental health services

More families are taking advantage of mental health services in North Allegheny, according to a report from the district’s Student Health and Safety Committee that was provided Jan. 18 to the school board.

There has been a slight, but overall, increase in the number of students using Glade Run Lutheran Services since the district began its partnership with the mental health agency during the 2020-2021 school year.

“They have been an amazing resource for our students and families,” said Dr. Michelle Doyle, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education. “I think it was very, very conducive to our students. We were very pleased with the services and what they could do. They were a great group to work with.”

Glade Run Lutheran Services, based in Zelenopol, with offices throughout the Pittsburgh area, provides on-site behavioral mental health services that promote social and emotional development. Therapists work with NA staff, students, and families, according to Doyle.

Comparing the 2020-2021 school year to date, the number of students using Glade Run has increased from 21 to 40 in the senior high school and from 20 to 41 students in the middle high school. In middle school, there was an increase from seven to 14 at Marshall, but it stayed at a flat 15 at Carson, and none at Ingomar.

Primary schools receiving assistance over the same period have gone from having no students in 2020-21 to three this year in Bradford Woods; from none to 10 in Franklin; from two to 11 in Hosak; from one to six at Ingomar; From none to 12 in McKnight, and from one to two in Peebles.

Doyle said she thinks student anxiety was the biggest increase across the board.

NA has paid for Glade Run’s services through federal covid relief funds over the past few years, but the school district will bear the expense when covid relief funding ends, according to Dr. Joseph Squillo, assistant superintendent of secondary education for Narcotics Anonymous.

North Allegheny School District Superintendent Dr. Melissa Friese said she feels more families are comfortable reaching the district for services because the stigma associated with mental health support is diminishing.

Addressing these needs now, Freese said, will provide students with coping skills as they grow older.

The county also uses UPMC Behavioral Health Services, funded through Allegheny County, to assist with students’ behavior and health needs, according to Sciullo. The program is for any student who is identified as engaging in behavior that threatens the health, safety, or welfare of themselves or others.

The district is working with another new provider, the Pittsburgh-based Human Services Administration Organization, to help with drug and alcohol education, he said.

Narcotics Anonymous is applying for a $225,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Crime and Delinquency Commission to fund helping staff identify mental health and behavioral cues in problem students. The grant will help provide a mental health first aid program for young people, de-escalation in crisis prevention intervention, and self-control training.

The district is seeing a rise in students with multiple infractions, according to school spokesperson Brandi Smith.

Post-intervention cases usually end after the first offense, Seululow said, but the district is seeing more second and third offenses, which can result in suspensions sometimes from 20 to 30 days. Middle schools are reaching out to the administration for assistance.

“This is just a new area that we’re seeing as a trend in a lot of middle schools that’s still time to do something about it,” Sciullo said.

Rather than simply issuing a lengthy comment, North Allegheny wants to correct behavior, not just punish misconduct and rule-breaking, according to the district’s strategic plan.

The techniques involve talking to the students about their actions and their results. Teachers get guidance on how to deal with classroom disruptions or behavioral problems.

The goal, Friese said, is to reduce the number of suspensions.

“Our goal is to reimagine that before it becomes an issue,” she said. “We have students who make very difficult choices and we want to make sure we are prepared for that.”

Narcotics Anonymous has partnered with McCandless Police, which has social service programs with the goal of keeping unruly students out of the court system.

Nathalie Beniveat is a contributing writer for TripTotal Media.

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