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South Hills High School Brings Clinicians In House For Social Emotional Services

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
The Chill room in Baldwin High School.

On average, Pennsylvania schools assign 400 students to every school counselor. That’s about 150 more students that the American School Counselor Association recommends.

With that deficit in mind, Baldwin High School partnered with Allegheny Health Network this year to staff a classroom with two clinicians who operate a walk-in space and also offer one-on-one sessions. In six months, principal Shaun Tomaszewski said that the program they call theChill Project has facilitated 6,000 interactions with the school’s 2,000 students.

“We’re seeing kids who are agitated in the office because of disciplinary issues asking us as administrators to go up to the Chill room to take a few minutes to calm down,” he said.

Program creator Will Davies said the program is designed to provide preventative services for students who don’t typically qualify for services from behavioral health agencies. As he describes it, these are students who need a check-in.

“We know mindfulness decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression but also the hope is if they have these skills in their daily practice it will decrease the need for higher levels of care later on,” he said.

Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of an individual’s own thoughts and feelings. Through the program, students practice yoga, meditation, and therapeutic conversation.

Davies says they placed QR codes around the school where students could sign up for sessions via their smart phones, which contributes to the popularity of the program.

The pilot was funded in part by a $20,000 grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. Davies also runs a similar program in Pleasant Hills Middle School. He said he hopes the work informs future programs in other schools.

Tomaszewski said he isn’t sure the school could have operated the program without philanthropic support. Though if the funding dries up he said he thinks the cultural changes will persist.