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Phoenix Center, Marble Falls ISD expand partnership through mental health care services

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Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Chris Allen and Phoenix Center founder and Executive Director Sarah Garrett. Courtesy photo

Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Chris Allen and Phoenix Center founder and Executive Director Sarah Garrett. Courtesy photo

MARBLE FALLS – Phoenix Center and the Marble Falls Independent School District are partnering to meet the needs of children who have experienced trauma. The two will do this through implementing and expanding school-based programs and initiatives.

The partnership, which started in the fall of 2015, reflects nationwide efforts for schools to be trauma-informed to meet the complex and special needs of children who have experienced trauma.

An anonymous Horseshoe Bay donor made it possible to expand Phoenix Center’s partnership with MFISD through funding 100 percent of an additional therapist’s salary. This will allow the two entities to provide school-based therapy services for students in crisis during the school year.

“Thanks to this generous gift, hundreds of life trajectories will be changed forever,” said Sarah Garrett, executive director and founder of Phoenix Center.

Since the center and the school district began working together, the initiative has served 232 students, officials said.

According to a survey by National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly half of children in the United States have experienced one or more types of serious childhood trauma — 34,825,978 children nationwide. In Burnet County, the rate of confirmed cases of child abuse is nearly two times higher than the state average. Further, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designated Burnet County as a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area.

Decades of research proves trauma can negatively affect brain development, impacting how a child learns, grows, and connects with others. Students who have experienced trauma, such as physical abuse, are at a greater risk of abusing drugs or alcohol, becoming pregnant, being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, delinquency, and receiving poor grades. Trauma in youth also increases rates of suicide and depression. Children who have experienced trauma present unique and complex challenges for educators, school faculty, and other students.

In addition to meeting a need, Phoenix Center also sought to overcome the barriers children face that can limit access to mental health care services such as geographic, transportation, and socioeconomic challenges. To counteract these obstacles, Phoenix Center proposed a partnership with MFISD to bring mental health services into local schools. Phoenix Center school-based programs include individual therapy services for students in crisis (such as youth who are suicidal), groups that promote prevention and early intervention, and trauma-informed care trainings for teachers and administrators.

“We feel the partnership with the Phoenix Center is key to fulfilling our vision to ‘… love every child and inspire them to achieve their fullest potential,’ MFISD superintendent Chris Allen said. “The provision of mental health services and trauma-informed training help students and teachers come together in the pursuit of success for all.”

The collaboration between the two groups began in 2015 with a trauma-focused parenting class for teen parents at Falls Career High School led by a Phoenix Center staff therapist. Also in 2015, Phoenix Center launched two groups focused on early childhood intervention at a Head Start campus serving 33 3-year-olds. Early childhood intervention is vital to reversing the negative impact of trauma as critical brain development occurs in the first five years of life. Phoenix Center groups at the Head Start preschool incorporate relaxation skills, deep-breathing techniques, and age-appropriate songs, stories, and yoga poses, which all aim to teach young children coping and relaxation skills. One teacher remarked on the success of the program with her students, “A positive change in the classroom that I have noticed is that children use calm-down strategies that were reinforced through yoga.”

In 2016, Phoenix Center and MFISD expanded their collaborative partnership through additional school-based therapy services and trainings. Phoenix Center secured private funding from the local Finn Family Foundation to hire the first full-time licensed therapist to provide counseling services to students in crisis on multiple school campuses. The campuses were selected by MFISD administrative personnel.

Additionally, 13 trauma-informed trainings were offered by Phoenix Center in this district. To date, more than 250 MFISD and Head Start educators have been trained by Phoenix Center in trauma-informed care.

In January 2017, Phoenix Center launched an intensive and innovative Trauma-Informed Care Pilot Program at Marble Falls Elementary School. Phoenix Center partnered with Natural Lifemanship to provide experiential training for educators on what it means to be trauma-informed and how to incorporate this knowledge into practice in the classroom.

In addition to programming, designated rooms – and related therapeutic materials – have been created on several school campuses. A sensory room was created at Spicewood Elementary School as a trauma-informed intervention to increase coping skills and emotional regulation.

Last year, Phoenix Center also secured funding from a private donor in Horseshoe Bay to create and fully equip a designated play therapy room on a Marble Falls Head Start campus. MFISD provided the room at no cost. With parental permission, licensed Phoenix Center therapists travel to the Head Start campus to provide school-based play therapy services to 2- and 3 year-old children with critical mental health needs.

Falls Career High School saw the addition of two parenting training workshops for teen parents and two music therapy groups.

“Since music therapy started, I have seen these kids express in ways I never thought they could,” Falls teacher Ronnie Scearce said. “We have kids writing lyrics to songs who are so engaged in the whole process. I’ve also seen an improvement in concentration and focus from the drumming and instrument playing.”

The collaborative effort between Phoenix Center and MFISD is delivering more direct and efficient critical care to students who have experienced trauma. To learn more or request trauma-informed school training, go to phoenixtx.org or email info@phoenixtx.org.

editor@thepicayune.com

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