Should All Schools Become Therapeutic Communities?

Student raising hand in classroom

I remember early in my career at Lakeside having discussions with school administrators about the many needs of their students. They often felt that they were expected to provide social work services when they believed their task should be confined to education and its goals for their students. Students who had special needs or were difficult to control were seen as diversions from their real mission.

I always felt that the schools that did provide additional supports were more attuned to the needs of their students and would be more successful in keeping those students in school and in providing a healthier place to learn. However, the debate has continued as to what degree schools should provide therapeutic services to their students.

Until the aftermath of covid . . .

With two years of COVID restrictions we have experienced record numbers of students who have experienced loss of learning, anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles.  Nationally our schools are in a whole different dimension of attempting to provide education while working with a student population that is struggling to recover from the impact of COVID-19.   

Our schools are ill-equipped to deal with this crisis. The net effect is that teachers are unable to manage the number of students who are struggling to complete assignments and control their emotions and/or behavior. There has been a shortage of teachers nationwide and the mental health needs of students have overwhelmed administrators and the teaching staff. As we know, this pandemic has had an exaggerated effect on our social ills and it has left havoc in our academic systems.

It is why Lakeside has been asked to provide increased numbers of counselors and specialists to schools in eight counties and there are requests for more. Our regional schools have realized that the needs of students have reached crisis conditions and now they are in need of more sophisticated and caring clinical services within schools both for students and staff.

Lakeside’s schools are designed for therapeutic care for our students. We provide behavior management support, clinical support, and academic support all integrated so our staff are aware of the needs of our students. This is not possible with large school districts who have thousands of students. Also, the funding and staffing for districts are not at the level that a therapeutic community would require.

However, I would recommend that we need to push the continuum of care upwards within the philosophy and services that our schools provide. We are no longer in a space where academics can be achieved without a more intentional approach to meet the emotional and relational needs of students.

We may not be able to have a complete system of care like Lakeside in a public school, but we can introduce more attuned clinical services, better training and support for our academic staff, and a trauma-informed approach as we create the interconnectedness between personal growth and academic achievement.

It has become essential for our schools to be successful in helping our students achieve success in school and in life.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO 

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