TULSA, Okla. — School is a safe space for many students. It also serves a place for them to access resources.
"We know they need our help," said Dr. Jarod Mendenhall, superintendent at Muskogee Public Schools.
Oklahoma Department of Human Services is working with local school districts to make sure students and families get help with its school-based services program. It places social services specialists in the district to help eliminate barriers to resources in the community.
“Really they kind of serve as that human services connection for the children and families who are served by that school," said Casey White, communications administrator at OKDHS. "So, they can help them apply for services offered by OKDHS, or they can make connections to other services that are available there in the community.”
These school-based specialists help with everything from mental health resources to transportation to helping family’s access food.
“Without our eyes on them and the relationships we can build with the families, a small problem can turn into a large problem very fast," said John Carey, a school-based specialist at Muskogee Public Schools.
MPS has partnered with OKDHS for the program since 2007. It’s one of less than 20 districts in Oklahoma to do so. One of the reasons many don’t is the cost. Since it’s a partnership, OKDHS and the district split the cost of each specialist. OKDHS said the cost for schools can be about $37,000. And many can’t afford that.
Muskogee is hoping to use COVID relief money to add at least four or five more specialists to the district.
“We have found that their value is tremendous," Dr. Mendenhall said. "We have a lot of students that really need those things and really need the services.”
Their services are even more vital during the pandemic. More students are coming forward to ask for help with things like their mental health. Having these specialists on-site helps students feel comfortable talking to someone.
“Since we’re there with them every day, I think it makes it a lot easier," said Courtney McCann, a school-based specialist at Muskogee Public Schools. "They know, like, I can go talk to Mr. John or I can go talk to Ms. Courtney. We’re not teachers. We’re just their friends that help them when they need something.”
OKDHS is hoping to get more school districts to join the program. You can find details about it here.
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