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Next step in addressing school based mental health

By Dr. Jason Hornbacher, BPS Superintendent
& Tracy Famais, BPS Social Worker

As parents and educators, it tends to be easy to identify the physical needs of our children such as housing, food, and clothing. It is much more difficult to identify a child’s mental health or emotional needs. Strong mental health allows all of us to develop social competencies, think clearly, and learn new skills. Approximately 20% of children and youth in our nation have a clearly identified need for mental health services, but only a third of them are receiving appropriate help. The barriers preventing children from receiving support range from a lack of identification of symptoms to timely access of services. When there are gaps in mental health supports, it is frequently left to schools to provide interventions, often times without the resources or the expertise they need.

I’m excited about a structure and process that Bismarck Public Schools is exploring to improve services for all students. This structure is referred to as an Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF). An ISF blends two things we are already implementing: Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and School Mental Health (SMH). The blending of BPIS and SMH reduces non-academic barriers to learning by emphasizing social/emotional learning for all, early identification of needs, effective treatment options and improved educational and life outcomes for all students. Schools are the ideal environments for implementing universal interventions aimed at promoting protective factors, resiliency, and positive emotional development.

Partnerships with families and community are at the heart of an effective ISF. By opening the school doors and inviting in families and community partners, we are able to build strong relationships and effectively program and teach all students. These partnerships promote several key messages:
1. Mental health is for all.
2. Teams operate together providing for a single system of delivery.
3. Teaching Evidence Based Practices is provided for all students, families and staff.
4. Fidelity and outcomes of interventions are measured and monitored.

So what’s the end result? A comprehensive continuum of supports for all students, positive school climates, improved relationships with families and community, school connectedness for all, reduced stigma regarding mental health, improved academics and emotional wellness, and ultimately safe students, staff, and schools.

If you want to learn more, you can reach me at or 701-323-4054. I’m excited to focus on mental wellness for all!