Eastern Allamakee Community School District is one of six districts statewide to receive Therapeutic Classroom Grant

“Kee Connect” will help students whose learning is impacted by social-emotional, behavioral factors

by Susan Cantine-Maxson

The Eastern Allamakee School District (EACSD) is one of six districts in the state of Iowa to win a competitive grant to establish a therapeutic classroom in the district. The EACSD, the smallest school district to receive the grant, will receive $216,000 to support the programming this year.

The therapeutic classrooms will be for learners whose social-emotional or behavioral needs impact their ability to be successful in their current learning environment. The grant was written by the administrative team of New Albin Elementary School Principal Donna Thomas and Kee High School and Middle School Principal Dr. Sarah Updegraff, with support from Keystone Area Education Agency (AEA), specifically Chami DeLong, Carissa Otto, Joleen Doyle and Laura Smith.

Dr. Updegraff explained, “The Therapeutic Classroom Grant is intended to establish supports for therapeutic classrooms for any learner, with or without an Individualized Education Program (IEP). It includes a multidisciplinary team which collaborates to design and deliver academics as well as social-emotional supports and behavior health programming. This programming will include enhancing positive childhood experiences, clear expectations and routines, regular assessment of social-emotional competencies with individual and/or small group instruction, behavior intervention plans for all students and full engagement and supports for families. The program will be called ‘Kee Connect’.”

The district will have several new positions as part of this grant. The EACSD Board of Directors recently approved the hiring of a Behavior Interventionist and a School Social Worker (see Page 9). In addition, there will be two classroom teachers for the K-12 program with special education and at-risk backgrounds, as well as paraprofessional support. It is possible that some current EACSD staff may transfer into the program as well.

The grant is to be implemented in the 2021-2022 school year and will serve students as soon as school begins this fall. In addition, the district will be looking for ways to sustain the programming past the grant year. The State may come up with some additional funding because of continuing mental health needs.

Dr. Updegraff elaborated about the need for such a program: “There is a lack of mental health services available to youth and families in the state, and even more so in rural Iowa. Right now, our closest referrals for mental health services are at least 35 miles away, which is often a burden to families who are already in crisis. By adding a therapeutic option at school and working with positive transitions to and from the traditional setting, we intend to bridge this gap. We hope to serve up to 20 students in K-12.”

When asked about the benefits of such a program, she explained, “We will be collecting a variety of data to show the benefits of the work in a therapeutic program. Each student will have an individual behavior intervention plan with goals based on behavior and mental health needs. We will collect progress toward those goals. In addition, we will track attendance data, office referral data, transition rates and times and academic growth for all students.”

Dr. Updegraff concluded, “Kee Connect will provide a real opportunity to increase our ability to meet the needs of all of our students and families. As our world and culture changes, and as a response to the pandemic, we are seeing more and more students who are suffering from trauma, in need of mental health services and needing assistance with behavior issues. By working with the whole child to increase positive experiences and also address academic needs, we can only continue to get better. Eastern Allamakee is lucky to have this opportunity to further work with our children and families.”

The Therapeutic Classroom Incentive Grant was established through State legislation signed into law last year and is part of a statewide effort to increase mental health supports for children, youth and families. Therapeutic supports include such things as social-emotional skill building, skills to cope with stress and trauma, mental health treatment, and crisis intervention and follow-up.

In support of the legislation and resulting funding, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said, “This grant supports school districts taking that next step to further support their students being healthy and productive in the classroom. As we move past the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa must continue to work collaboratively with schools, mental health regions and our Area Education Agencies to support students and their whole health.”

Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo also expressed her support, noting, “I am proud of the work our schools do every day to expand educational opportunities in new ways to meet the needs of all students. I commend these schools and their community partners on plans for building and strengthening a continuum of therapeutic supports for students.”

The remainder of the $1.6 million dollars in statewide funding will be divided among the other five districts also receiving the grant: Ames Community School District, Clinton Community School District, Hinton Community School District, Mount Pleasant Community School District and Washington Community School District. Grants will be distributed by August 1 of this year for implementation during the 2021-2022 school year. Proposals submitted by the six awarded districts will serve nearly 150 pre-K-12 students and are designed to expand mental health supports for youth across five of the state of Iowa’s Mental Health & Disability Services (MHDS) regions and six of its Area Education Agency (AEA) regions.