What makes a social outcast who is constantly bullied in middle school become a successful, graduating senior with self-confidence, friends and plans to go to college? If you ask 18-year-old Garrett, it’s a little bit of magic and AltaPointe’s school-based therapy program. For the past six years, Garrett has routinely been seen by Tiffany Shea, his school-based therapist.
When Shea met Garrett, he was admittedly a kid having troubles. He was doing poorly in school, had anger issues and fought with bouts of depression. Before the school-based therapy program was introduced into the Mobile County Public School System, Garrett would have to take time away from classes he was already failing to attend his counseling sessions at one of AltaPointe’s outpatient offices. This meant time away from his studies; time that he could not afford. Once the program started, Garret was able to visit with Shea regularly with little or no interruption in school.
Shea encouraged him to step up and improve himself. “I used to be extremely lazy and didn’t want to do anything in school,” Garrett acknowledged. “Each year, she would encourage me to move up, so I would do more and more stuff each year.”
In the summer prior to ninth grade, Garrett made a life-changing decision. “I decided that what better way to improve my social skills than to learn the nerdy thing – magic,” he said. “And it actually worked. My first day of school I walked up to someone that I didn’t know and showed them a couple of magic tricks. The word just spread. I had so many people asking me to do magic tricks. Now people ask me to do birthday parties and stuff.”
Shea explained that magic tricks became Garrett’s thing. “He’d even do magic tricks in [therapy] sessions,” she said. “He didn’t have a lot of friends, but he found a way to make friends with the card tricks and magic.”
School employees recognize program’s importance
School-based therapy can work magic and, according to one public school employee, help children grow and excel with the encouragement and consistent counseling the program provides. Donna Henderson, a counselor at the local high school Garrett attends, recognizes the importance of having Shea and others like her in the school system.
“When Mobile County public schools started the program, we had some questions about how it was going to work,” Henderson said. “But, from day one it has been awesome. We are working as a cohesive team.”
Like most counselors in the program, Shea works in more than one school in a specific feeder pattern where therapists follow the children from elementary through high school. She said working with the same children consistently from an early age makes a big difference in their progress.
“Children that I get when they are little, know they have someone who cares and someone who they can talk to; it is so much better,” she said. “The kids that I only get in middle school or high school – who did not have the school-based therapy all the way through – well, it seems so much worse because their behavior or the situation has escalated so much before they get to me. That is why I think a feeder pattern is really necessary and important.”
Success stories like Garrett’s are not uncommon among students in the program. “The school-based program is a win-win for everyone; it is key for us,” Patrice Davis, intervention supervisor with Baldwin County Public Schools, said. “The students don’t have to miss as much time from school and parents don’t have to miss time from work. Here at the local school, they are able to work out what class time is going to be best for that child to miss. So it has really been well received by everyone who is involved, and we are certainly pleased with our partnership.”
School-based growth continues
AltaPointe’s school-based therapy program currently reaches 28 schools in Mobile County and virtually all 45 schools in the Baldwin County system, in addition to all of the schools in the Saraland, Chickasaw, Satsuma and Washington County school systems. The program is currently being introduced into the Sylacauga region as well.
AltaPointe Children’s Outpatient clinical director Olivia Nettles, LPC, NCC, spearheaded the Mobile County school-based program and is helping AltaPointe’s Sylacauga region to establish a school-based therapy relationship. “Early in my career, when I was a children’s therapist working in the Mississippi schools, I recognized the importance of consistent and convenient access to care for children and their families,” she said.