Source: North Jersey.com
“I don’t think anything beats in-school service — kids love having them there,” said Rosie Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Foundation. Eastside and John F. Kennedy high schools in Paterson offer school-based services, including an after-school drop-in program for students whose parents are not available to transport them to other locations during working hours.
Like other educators, Grant wanted to know what data justified sunsetting the in-school program. “I hadn’t heard anything about it until just before it was released, so I don’t know what their process was and what their methodology was and what kids were surveyed but none of that information has been released.”
The state said 66% of students preferred remote or outside-school counseling services in surveys and focus groups conducted between 2021 and 2022 to assess the current program and evaluate mental health and support needs in school-aged children. In one of the surveys, preferences for receiving services were evenly spread out between at home, in school and outside locations, with about 30% of students picking each option.
In another question, students said that offering in-person services, more than telehealth, would increase the likelihood of them seeking out school-based programs. The survey assessed the needs of 5,400 students, mostly high schoolers.
While the state plans to broaden its services overall with the new New Jersey Statewide Student Support Service Network (NJ4S), the impact of losing services in schools will be as widespread, from Irvington and Paterson in North Jersey to Millville in South Jersey’s Cumberland County.
The new program is “diluting the services by going from 21 counties to 15,” said Millville School District superintendent Tony Trongone. This program will not address “the intense support students need,” he said. It does not address transportation issues and language barriers. “People do not talk about rural poverty and how these kids access services, it’s different from urban poverty. The ability to get your body somewhere to receive services is a huge obstacle,” he said.
About 74% of enrolled students qualify for free and reduced lunches in the district, said Trongone, who also wants the school-based program to be retained within NJ4S. More than half (58.8%) of the 4,800-student Millville school district are economically disadvantaged, according to state data.
The state has pointed out that New Jersey has 1.4 million schoolchildren, and the current school-based services program serves less than 3%. However, those services are still critical to their communities, said Trongone.
And according to “Your intention may be to help, but the impact will be to harm if we don’t work together,” adds Canady.