McLean Hospital – 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478
The increase in anxiety in today’s students takes a toll not only on the youngsters, but also on the education professionals who work to help them through their days. A collaboration between the Falmouth, Massachusetts, public school system and the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program is paying dividends for students and staff alike.
Laura Finton, LICSW, is an adjustment counselor at the 833-student Falmouth High School. She has seen an upturn in anxiety and stress. On some days, two or three students would be at her door in need of “intense therapeutic help.”
“It was getting a little overwhelming from my end too. Sometimes they’re quiet when they’re stuck, and sometimes they’re explosive. It’s hard to manage. The toolbox I had was broken.”
Enter the McLean collaboration, which offers trainings with adjustment counselors, psychologists, and special education staff; program development for the district’s therapeutic classrooms; professional development presentations for a broader audience of district staff; and help with individual cases, with an eye to both the student and the need to avoid “empathy fatigue” that might ripple to the student.
“I was starting to rebuild [a toolbox], but I was doing it haphazardly, pulling from here, there, and everywhere, and they really helped me to do this in a more systematic way,” she said of the partnership launched in September 2017.
The program has reached into every corner of the school system, said Charles A. Jodoin, Falmouth’s director of student services. It started with professional development workshops that went “from the very top of the administrative ladder right to the entire staff.”
It now includes weekly Tuesday morning teleconferences with McLean where school staff can join in for broad guidance or individualized assistance across the 3,400-student system.
“These sessions are done virtually, so each school has the technology capability of logging in, and we can, if we want, have all seven schools on at once, or we have various folks call in or log in at certain times while others log off,” said Jodoin.
The results to date have been rewarding, with fewer hospitalized students—and more confident professional staff.
“You’re the only mental health professional in the building when you’re the adjustment counselor,” said Finton. “Everyone else is an educator or a guidance counselor. It’s a different background, so you’re the one making the decision that this kid needs to go to crisis counseling....Oftentimes you’re going home saying ‘Did I make the right call?’”
“Our kids have been invisible and kind of lost for years. Our administration sees these kids and sees the struggles that staff are having as well, and that’s what brought the collaboration.”