PLATTSBURGH - A new program through Champlain Valley Educational Services is working to promote safety and mental health in several North Country schools.
The Communities of One Safe Schools/Healthy Students program was established late last year though a four-year $4.3 million federal grant to CVES.
The program is active in five area school districts: Northern Adirondack, Saranac, AuSable Valley, Moriah and Ticonderoga.
Through the program, students are offered services such as drug prevention education, weekly playgroups for pre-school children and their parents, and adventure-style programming that promotes team-building and emotional health. Most of the services focus on the elementary grades.
"We're trying to eliminate people falling through the cracks," explained program administrator Wanda McQueen, "and that's what early intervention is designed to do."
That early intervention may be best exemplified in regular developmental screenings offered at Communities of One schools, as well as parenting education workshops.
"It creates a feel that the school district is not just for your kids anymore," said McQueen, "it's for supporting families in the community."
In addition, the program facilitates collaboration with county sheriffs to assess school safety and develop plans to deal with school violence and crisis intervention.
"The biggest piece is that it's a collaboration of schools, law enforcement, and mental health agencies," explained Andrea McDonald, school community coordinator. "Students may have been eligible before, but would have had to go through the county to receive services. These services are brought to the school."
Though all agree it's too early to quantify the impact of the program, feedback from many school officials has been positive, and more and more students and families have been utilizing it.
That includes Keeseville, where 17 students in grades 4-6 have been involved in weekly adventure programming provided through Behavioral Health Services North.
"The kids have really enjoyed it and are getting a lot out of it," said Keeseville Elementary School principal Kevin Hulbert.
In late January, during a meeting with program liaisons in Washington DC, the Communities of One project received federal recognition for its communication efforts.
"We were also commended on the level of detail used in meeting one of our federal requirements, resulting in our project being used as an example to other projects nationwide," said McQueen. "This speaks to the efforts of all of the professionals who are committed to our project's success."
Hulbert also praised the Communities of One program for facilitating collaboration between the school and various services in both Clinton and Essex counties.
"The thing I love about this is you're making contacts with these agencies," said Hulbert, "and these contacts are not going to end just because the grant ends."