(Gilbert, Arizona) –– When people think of a school district, their general idea is one of an essential community entity whose function is to educate their children.
While education is their primary focus, school districts like Gilbert Public Schools play a much larger role in the community because schools are not only responsible for educating children; they also look at the behavioral, social and emotional aspect of their students.
Internally, Gilbert’s important role of working with thousands of students and their families beyond the classroom setting is the norm, an environment where social workers, counselors, psychologists and nurses operate as a team on a daily basis to improve the lives of the population they serve during crisis situations.
Externally, these efforts caught the eye of public officials, government entities and health organizations last year, when Gilbert was invited to be part of the Town of Gilbert Behavioral Health and Substance Use Task Force.
“Last year, Gilbert Public Schools was invited to have a representative for the task force,” said Susan Cadena, Gilbert’s K-12 Prevention Coordinator. “They were asking everyone in the task force if there was a format, a process or model that they could have input about.”
Susan Cadena, Gilbert Public Schools K-12 Prevention Coordinator
Cadena said the task force was seeking to come up with a faith-based training that would focus on how to handle a temporary situation or a long-term mental health crisis when it happens within religious congregations.
“We came in as the [school] district to kind of just offer ideas,” Cadena said. “We said, we have our Behavioral Health Teams that we started developing and implementing last school year in all of our schools.”
Gilbert’s Behavioral Health Teams consist of social workers, counselors, psychologists and nurses, as well as schools administrative teams.
Cadena, a licensed clinical social worker with 13 years with the district, said Gilbert’s own model of how the school district goes about responding to crisis was shared among members of the task force.
“We have the documentation, a follow through [process] on how to assess and respond when there are students in crisis, and we have our protocols,” explained Cadena.
The Town of Gilbert was seeking to establish needed behavioral health resources for the community, and Cadena said the task force became interested in the school district’s crisis response and Behavioral Health Team model.
“When people hear that in the school district we have Behavioral Health Teams, school psychologists, social workers, counselors and nurses, I think they see all these school professionals and think of it as a one-stop shop,” said Cadena. “Every school has this group and its team working; I think they see it as an in-house behavioral health type of setting. But we are kind of a snapshot; we are here to triage.”
Mirroring elements of Gilbert’s response crisis model, the task force created its own team, called Crisis Care Team.
According to the task force’s mission, this team seeks to remove stigmas related to mental health, bring holistic support around the family, and assess, plan, and implement a holistic solution for individuals and caregivers.
This Saturday, the Behavioral Health and Substance Use Task Force is holding the task force’s first workshop of its kind, called "Caring for Families in Crisis."
The workshop, which focuses on individuals and families affected by serious mental illness, is designed for faith leaders, and it includes material and resources so faith organizations can develop their own Crisis Care Teams.
Rev. Jon McHatton, task force chairman, compiled the training’s curriculum, and it is the result of input by a number of agencies.
Respectful and privileged
For Cadena, who is part of this workshop’s group of facilitators, the fact that the task force’s Crisis Care Team was modeled after Gilbert’s own Behavioral Health Team is a compliment in the sense that they see the school district being able to provide a very valuable resource.
“We are able to capture, in a school building, kids that are walking through our door with so many social issues,” said Cadena. “You function as a small community, kind of a small family if you will, every day, and there are a lot of times, a lot of hours that those kiddos spend in those buildings; parents trust us with their kids knowing that there is a positive learning environment for them.”
Cadena said Gilbert Public Schools respects the fact that parents trust the district enough to do this work with their children.
“We are often dealing with families that are coming to us at their most vulnerable times,” said Cadena. “Oftentimes, the first time you meet a family is when they are going through crisis, so we are respectful and sensitive enough to feel privileged. I think that is unique, and it’s something the district should be very proud.”
The "Caring for Families
in Crisis" training is tomorrow, Saturday, September 24 from 8:00 am - 12:00 noon,
and it will take place at the Sovereign Grace Church, 1280 N. Cooper Road,
Gilbert, AZ. Free admission.