On March 20, at the monthly meeting of McDonogh City Park Academy board of directors, the Children’s Bureau presented data  they have collected over the past eight months while working with the school’s leadership to enhance the emotional well-being of students.

Children’s Bureau president Paulette Carter led he presentation with Stacy Overstreet, a professor and co-director of Tulane’s School Psychology Program. The project, begun in September, seeks to create school-based mental health services and is funded by the Institute of Mental Hygiene.

“Often, mental health tends to be pushed over to the side,” Carter said. “I’m a true believer in coordination and collaboration, because it takes a team to work with a child, to help a child.”

Carter, a former teacher, said she understands what classroom leaders face. She said her vision of combining the expertise of a mental health agency with the expertise of school staffs took root in the school reform movement after Hurricane Katrina.

The goal is to support students academically, socially, and emotionally, she said. To that end, the project has sought to identify and coordinate behavioral support services for students and consultation and training services for school staff. It also arranges clinical interventions for students who require them.

“The foundation of the project is to foster a school environment that is going to enhance the learning of the students,” Overstreet said. That means helping students learn to manage emotions such as frustration and anxiety.

“Education is about building positive relationships and social awareness,” Overstreet said. “Kids who can manage stress and have positive teacher relationships, also have higher school performances.”

The school’s Second Step Violence Prevention Program teaches these skills through lessons that impart  personal and social skills. The program monitors progress by having students fill out a 30-item questionnaire which is used to rank them by their susceptibility to social, emotional or behavioral problems.

The fall screening showed that 75.6% of students were within the normal risk range, with 6% in the extremely high-risk range. It also indicated that some middle school students may feel disconnected from the school.

The winter screening showed little improvement, with 79% at normal risk and 5.1% at extremely high risk.

Citing recent disciplinary problems at the school, board member Mike Bagot asked how soon can they expect to see greater results from the program.

So far the impact may seem small, but more positive results should be apparent next year, Carter and Overstreet told the board.

In other business, assistant principal Ellen Bankston reported that the fourth and eighth grades took the high-stakes state LEAP test earlier that day, with only two students absent. The test consisted of a writing section and a mathematics section.

“Students said they felt it went well and were positive about the test,” Bankston said.

Board treasurer Jim Nelson ended the meeting with a look at the school’s finances. The school is on a sound footing, he said.