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Washington Elementary School.
(MyBayCity Photo by John Keuvelaar)

Innovative Way To Address Truancy

Announcement of Washington Elementary School Family Health Initiative

November 5, 2016       Leave a Comment
By: MyBayCity Staff

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It started with an idea. That idea was shared and possibilities sprouted. Additional experts were added and with a "let's make this happen" attitude. In less than a year, the idea had grown to a concept, a grant was written and soon the idea had blossomed into an innovative new way to address truancy, at its roots in the elementary school.

"Over my almost 30 years as an assistant prosecutor and now as a Probate Judge, I have seen too much correlation between juvenile crimes and abuse and neglect cases where the children have suffered from a lack of classroom attendance. Many times these children are suffering from lack of therapeutic intervention for their behaviors that if treated sooner would have avoided court intervention. With this in mind, shortly after taking the bench I approach Kim Bejcek of the MDHHS to begin working on a solution" says Probate Judge John Keuvelaar.


Probate Judge John Keuvelaar: "Many times these children are suffering from lack of therapeutic intervention for their behaviors that if treated sooner would have avoided court intervention."
Photo by John Keuvelaar
© MyBayCity.com


According to Kim Bejcek, local Director for Arenac and Bay County MDHHS offices, "MDHHS Bay County enters its third year this fall partnering with Washington Elementary and the Bangor School District, through Pathways to Potential. A Bay County DHHS success coach, located at the school, works with elementary school principals and staff to assist families with reducing barriers that lead to poor school attendance. Our hope was to expand this partnership to include behavioral health, and other health services, along with the courts, in an effort to address trauma and behavioral health needs of children, within the school setting. The grant was a perfect opportunity to do just that."

With these thoughts in mind, Superintendent Janet Greif of the Bay City Public Schools, Dr. Bill Tithof Principal Washington Elementary School, Probate Judge John C. Keuvelaar, Kim Bejcek Director of the Bay County Department of Health and Human Services, Joel Strasz Director of the Bay County Public Health Department and Chris Pinter, CEO of Bay-Arenac Behavior Health proudly announce the creation of the Washington Elementary School Family Health Initiative.

This School Family Health Initiative brings a medical nurse, a behavior therapist, and an MDHHS support worker into the school setting making such services more accessible to the parents and children of the community where the need for these services are greatest. The goals are to keep children in attendance at the schools by eliminating the barriers that often keep them out of the schools and classrooms. By addressing the child's physical, behavioral and mental health needs as well as those needs in the family unit, the child and the family as a whole will achieve greater success both immediately and in the future. By reducing and eliminating truancy, high school graduation will increase as well as reducing criminal behavior and child and protective services involvement.

The idea started in May of 2015 when Probate Judge John Keuvelaar and Bay County DHHS Director Kim Bejcek met at a conference and discussed the issue of truancy in the schools. The concern was that addressing truancy and its issues at the middle and high school level is often too late. Fundamental educational learning was being lost and the problems causing this loss needed to be addressed at the elementary school level.


DHHS Director Kim Bejcek: "Our hope was to expand this partnership to include behavioral health, and other health services, along with the courts, in an effort to address trauma and behavioral health needs of children, within the school setting."
Photo by John Keuvelaar
© MyBayCity.com



Utilizing the DHHS program, Pathways to Potential, it was quickly realized that greater barriers to child and family success existed that needed addressing. Bay County Health Director Joel Strasz and Bay Area Behavioral Health CEO Chris Pinter were invited to the discussion. Seeing how great the needs for these services are in our community, a call of interest went out to the area schools and Washington Elementary School Principal Dr. Bill Tithof answered the call. Dr. Tithof provided insight into the problems that his school faces including behavioral problems in the classroom. These problems interrupt learning for the individual student as well as that of the student's classmates. Teachers and staff were spending too much time addressing the immediate problem of the student and taking their focus away from teaching. An on-site therapist can intervene more readily assessing and addressing the behavior issues of the student in hopes of reducing and eliminating such issues.


Playground of Washington Elementary School.
(MyBayCity Photo by John Keuvelaar)

Joelin Hahn, Director of Integrated Services for BABH and Michelle Richards, Supervisor of Outpatient Services for MPA (Michigan Psychological Services) joined in the group and with the full endorsement of Bay City Public Schools Superintendent, Janet Greif, the group began working on a school-based health initiative.

Joel Strasz advised the group of a grant available through the Michigan Health Endowment Fund which would provide the much-needed funds to initiate the program to have it up and running by the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. Spearheaded by Dr. Tithof, the group was able to submit the grant within a month and on July 27, 2016, a grant of $308,000.00 was awarded making the Washington Elementary School Family Health Initiative a reality. The grant will cover the cost of the initial start up and a full year's operation. It is fully expected by that time the program will be self-sufficient.

The elementary school-based health center is believed to be the first in the state addressing all these needs at a neighborhood level. The expectation has both short-term implications while providing long-term success. Many families have physical and behavioral health needs as well as financial needs. They are not able to gain access to help for these needs due to such barriers as transportation, child care or lack of knowledge that services exist. The Washington Elementary School Family Health Initiative will help them gain access to these services. This will ensure that elementary students will not only be in attendance at school but will benefit from that attendance through greater classroom participation. Teachers will be freed up to spend more time on assignments rather than addressing classroom incidents. It is expected that truancy at the middle and high schools will decrease and family units will become more stable. This will lead to greater individual success as well as fewer contacts with the court system in the future.

It is the hope and expectation that this program will be expanded to other schools based upon various levels of need to benefit all the community.



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