WVDE, Marshall partner to launch program designed to help schools with social/emotional needs

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — There’s a new program in place designed to support schools, educators, school personnel, families and students all across the state affected by the substance misuse crisis.

The West Virginia Department of Education and Marshall University unveiled that program on Thursday: ReClaim West Virginia Initiative.

Diana Whitlock, the Assistant Director in the Office of Special Education and Student Support for the state Department of Education (WVDE) told MetroNews they have been working on this launch for more than a year.

She said teachers have been crying out for help when it comes to social/emotional resources in schools.

“They have been saying help us with behavior, help us with the mental health issues that we are seeing due to the trauma that our students are facing,” Whitlock said. “They realize and we also realize that they are not equipped to handle that.”

The WVDE partnered with several agencies in this program including Marshall University’s Autism Training Center which houses the West Virginia Behavior/Mental Health Technical Assistance Center (TAC).

According to the WVDE, TAC provides training and technical assistance based on national, research-driven models and allows resources to be dispersed around the state to address the needs of the school community.

“It is about pulling all of our resources, talents and strengths among our partners to address this issue and fight this battle against the opioids and substance misuse that is claiming our state,” Whitlock said.

Whitlock mentioned to MetroNews several other resources becoming available through ReClaim WV to schools and educators.

One of those is a pilot expanded school mental health program in Kanawha County. TAC at Marshall can send one staff person to a school to conduct training with students. Whitlock said it teaches students about “resiliency.”

“It brings in positive behavior intervention and support, along with expanded school mental health,” she said. “You’re bringing in the behavior piece, you’re bringing in the mental health piece and it’s a framework to be able to provide our students at all three tiers.”

Those tiers include everybody getting the same universal help followed by a middle tier for a more deep case and a third tier for the “extreme” cases of social/emotional help for the student.

Whitlock said the focus on students in schools needs to hit the “whole” student including basic academics, physical, social/emotional, and behavioral.

“No longer can we focus just on academics,” she said.

“We have to focus on the whole needs of a child. If a child is hurting, traumatized or feel unsafe. That child, regardless of how smart that child is, won’t be able to learn and exceed their potential.”

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