J.H. Hines Elementary School students who struggle with recurring behavioral problems will have added support this year as the Klaras Center for Families plans to provide mental health professionals for on-campus counseling sessions.

Klaras Center Director Ron Kimbell will hire a full-time licensed therapist and a caseworker for the Hines campus during the upcoming school year to identify and help students overcome behaviors that stem from traumatic living environments.

“It provides the ability to be available — in a more immediate fashion, a more accessible fashion — to try and redress any issues that may be going on on the school campus before they get exacerbated,” Kimbell said.

J.H. Hines Elementary teaches pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, with more than 93 percent of its students on free or reduced-price lunches. The school is in its second year of a $3.3 million grant for being a Title I Priority school, which the state ranks as one of the “persistently lowest-achieving” campuses in the state, according to the Texas Education Agency website.

Hines Principal Tra Hall said the campus and Klaras will split the cost of the positions the first year using Title I funds, but since the majority of students are on Medicaid, the positions should be self-sustaining by the end of the year from insurance revenue.

Hall said he sought out the Klaras Center because a high number of the Tier 3 students were not learning to self-regulate and seemed to have problems beyond what the school’s staff could improve. Many students had incarcerated parents, or were in abusive or neglectful situations, causing the students to misbehave, Hall said.

“That was really troubling to us,” Hall said.

Tier 3 students required a behavioral aide to remove them from a class more than 10 times a week for several weeks.

The school employs Conscious Discipline, a social-emotional program that uses self-regulation techniques for better classroom management. Tier 1 includes all students, who do community-building projects and a type of peer mediation. Tier 2 is a select group of students who need the behavioral aide to intervene on a regular basis.

The therapist and case-manager will assess students who continually have behavioral problems, building on data the school provides from previous years.

They then will provide individual, family, anger and grief counseling, depending on need, Hall said. The therapist and caseworker also will have access to the full array of services Klaras offers and can refer students to Klaras’ psychiatrist if medication is needed, Kimbell said. Hall said he thinks at least 100 of Hines’ 600 students could benefit from mental health services.

“It also allows us to eliminate a very large obstacle to people accessing mental health, and that is transportation,” Kimbell said.

Counselors banned

The program comes after Waco ISD Superintendent Bonny Cain banned private counselors from holding on-campus sessions after administrators complained about school-day interruptions. Principals and teachers grew concerned after counselors would come and pull students out of necessary classes.

Hall said this program will be an improvement to that method because families will be notified and involved in the process. Counselors also will have more knowledge about the students’ schedules and can pull them from nonessential classes.

“But if the kids aren’t learning-ready, it doesn’t make a lot of difference. If you can’t get the behavior under control, they’re not going to learn how to read or do math anyway,” Hall said.

Kimbell said he thinks the partnership will be copied at other campuses throughout the district if it is successful.

“When the principal is on board and understands the child’s not going to learn well or learn at all if he or she is emotional unstable or dealing with mental or behavioral health issues, to a great degree that’s significant,” Kimbell said. “And that’s what we’re getting from J.H. Hines. They understand that this is not an either/or proposition.”

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