MIDDLEPORT — The Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Ohio Department of Education recently made a visit to the region, stopping at Meigs Elementary.
Paolo DeMaria, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Ohio Department of Education, was accompanied by State Board of Education member Cathye Flory, Athens-Meigs ESC Supt. Rick Edwards and other members of the ESC staff for the visit.
While at Meigs Elementary, the group met with Supt. Scot Gheen, Principals Jody Howard and Kristin Baer, Assistant Principal Lorri Lightle, Teacher Missy Howard, Trauma Informed Consultant Robyn Venoy and Gallia-Jackson-Meigs ADMAHS Executive Director Robin Harris, among others.
DeMaria heard about the Trauma Informed Care program which has been implemented at Meigs Elementary to help meet the needs of the district’s children.
Harris explained that ADMAHS boards were given $75,000 in the state budget to put toward the drug problem. She stated that they wanted to look at something to get out in front of the problem which led to the idea of trying to integrate something in the school. She added that when looking at the needs in the region it is important to get in front of the problems and reach out to make an impact on the youth.
A pilot program for Trauma Informed Care was put in place at Meigs Elementary for this school year, including the placement of a Trauma Informed Consultant in the school in partnership with Hopewell Health Centers.
Prior to this, explained Harris, the schools had been a location for services, but there were barriers that stood in the way. “We needed to look at how to partner with schools in a meaningful way,” said Harris.
Harris went on to say that the pressure being put on the schools is “tragic” and that it is the job of those including her agency to bring help and services.
“There has to be a way to live within the rules but bring services,” said Harris.
Meeting with the administration and then kindergarten teachers, Harris went to Hopewell and from there came the idea for the Trauma Informed Care consultant in the school.
Having the person in the school with the ability to be hands with the teachers and children helps to bridge the gap which was previously in place.
“We need all the help we can get,” said Missy Howard, noting that when kids are not receiving all of the things they need at home the school must fill the gaps. Several of the students in the district may be in homes which do not include their biological parents, may have one or both parents in prison, or other situations which can create a hardship or stressful situation for the child.
It is the kids in those and other situations which the program helps to impact.
While the plan was to begin with a one year pilot program, the districts in the region have been anxious for the help. The program is also beginning in Wellston, with conversations taking place in other districts as well.
DeMaria asked what training has been taking place for staff in conjunction with the program as the district has been working on implementation.
Baer explained that teachers came in over the summer to complete a portion of the training, while additional trainings have taken place on waiver days.
“We see this as the beginning of a culture change,” said Harris. While it is important to train, it is more important to come along side to provide the help to the teachers and children.
Baer noted that one struggle is getting the children in the classrooms.
Chronic absenteeism is up from last year at the primary level, something that is not necessarily the fault of the students themselves, but can be the result of situations at home, explained Baer.
“They don’t have the parents at home to get them ready for school or get them to school. It is a direct reflection of the drug epidemic,” said Baer.
As for how the program is helping, Venoy explained that teachers can reach out to her in weekly meetings or by email, as well as finding her in the building each day. When a teacher reaches out, she can observe the class and the student, as well as talking to the teacher about any steps that have already been taken and what can be taken in the future.
Baer said that building wide the goal is to make the students know that they are welcome and that they are important and cared for no matter the situation.
“We appreciate what they are doing with this program,” said Supt. Gheen. He explained that all schools in the area are facing the same challenges.
The group is currently working to add other tools to the Trauma Informed Care program to better met the needs of the students in the district and county.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.