New mental health program to help students build coping skills ‘comes at a good time’

  • ALLEN

Staff Writer
Published: 4/29/2021 5:22:34 PM

Counselors from six school districts have been trained in a new curriculum to prevent drug and alcohol use and promote the mental health of students, thanks to the Communities That Care Coalition.

Nine counselors from the Greenfield School Department as well as the Gill-Montague, Mohawk Trail, Frontier, Pioneer Valley and Ralph C. Mahar regional school districts returned from April vacation having completed the three-day training that was funded by the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region.

Coalition Coordinator Kat Allen said the PreVenture Program teaches cognitive behavioral skills and motivational techniques to students in small group settings based on their personality types.

Allen said the Communities That Care Coalition is working with schools to decide who will be involved when the program is implemented this year.

“Schools will roll the program out with certain students in mind,” she said. “They’ll probably start with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.”

The national, evidence-based program uses personality-targeted interventions to promote mental health and skills development and prevent youth substance use. It is designed to help at-risk youths ages 12 to 17 learn coping skills, set long-term goals and channel their personalities toward achieving them.

Allen, who underwent the training herself, said two clinical supervisors from Clinical & Support Options (CSO) also participated in the training and will receive additional education as “expert trainers” in the program. They will observe and provide feedback to the school counselors as the program is implemented in each school district.

The program will pair nicely with the LifeSkills substance use prevention curriculum, which teaches social and emotional skills to all middle school students, typically through health classes, Allen explained.

Youth drug and alcohol use rates have declined dramatically since the Communities That Care Coalition began surveying students in 2003, but mental health challenges — in particular, symptoms of depression and anxiety — have been on the rise since 2012, and the pandemic has exacerbated this already growing area of concern over the past year, Allen added.

The PreVenture Program is designed to help students with the problems that can arise from hopelessness, anxiety-sensitivity, impulsivity and sensation-seeking, according to Allen. It has been well researched and shown to decrease panic attacks and reduce peer victimization and bullying, shoplifting, and drug and alcohol use.

“Students will be invited to workshops based on their personalities,” Allen explained. “The idea is for them to develop skills before problems arise.”

Counselors will teach cognitive-behavioral skills that have been shown to be effective, she said.

“It basically teaches students to be their own therapists,” she said. “It helps them think through decisions for themselves. It makes them more self-aware.

“It’s a short-term program, so there’s not a lot of commitment — a 10-minute questionnaire to determine personality types and then two 90-minute workshops,” she continued. “It’s been proven that six years later, it’s still working for students who participated.”

Eventually, Allen said, schools would like to connect with students a bit younger, but decided to work with those a little older to start.

Additionally, the program’s benefits have been shown to last for years into the future, since students can learn healthy coping mechanisms before they’ve become reliant on unhealthy ones.

“As one local school counselor who completed the training shared,” Allen said, “‘The PreVenture Program will provide my students the tools they need to make healthy choices to meet their goals. It is very clear to me that this program is well thought out and based in the science of how people change their behaviors.’”

Allen said the Opioid Task Force used a public health opioid response grant to get the program up and running over six months.

“That’s the most expensive part, so we were delighted to get help from the Opioid Task Force,” Allen said. “Once it’s launched, maintaining it isn’t very expensive.”

She said the two counselors from Clinical & Support Options will train any new school counselors if any leave.

“Everyone who participated was very engaged and eager to begin,” Allen said of the training. “One hundred percent who participated said they like the program and they’ve gotten great support from their school principals. We’re going to be addressing significant issues with some of our youths as we come out of the pandemic, so this comes at a good time.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.




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