Q&A with Doug Loviscky and Jeanne Knouse on the new SCASD Mental Health Matters Fund
Some alarming data in 2015 from the Pennsylvania Youth Survey prompted the State College Area School District to take action.
According to anonymous responses, 40 percent of students in grade 12 reported feeling that “life wasn’t worth living.”
The district took steps including implementing universal screening to help confidentially identify at-risk students and adding a mental health and well-being component to its health and physical education curriculum.
According to 2017 survey data, SCASD was the only Centre County district to show improvements in the area of student mental health.
Now, the district will take things a step further, thanks to the creation of a dedicated fund, Mental Health Matters, through the SCASD Education Foundation.
Doug Loviscky, foundation board president, and Jeanne Knouse, the district’s director of student services, discussed the initiative with Town&Gown.
T&G: What led the SCASD Education Foundation to make the establishment of the Mental Health Matters Fund a priority?
Loviscky: The district presented several ideas to the foundation board and after some discussion, the concept of creating a fund to support mental health programs and initiatives for students was most appealing given the mission of the foundation and the growing need for mental health programs.
T&G: Do you have a monetary goal for the fund?
Loviscky: Proceeds from the 2019 Maroon and Gray Dinner [May 18] will be used to create the Mental Health Matters Fund and then we plan to continue annual fundraising efforts to replenish the fund given the ongoing, and likely increasing, need for mental health services at all levels within the district. While we have not established a public goal for this year’s dinner, proceeds from the 2018 dinner were about $70,000 and we are hoping for an even better response from our community this year.
The dinner has a twofold purpose. First, to honor and recognize new inductees to the Maroon and Gray Society, consisting of alumni and members of the SCASD community who have made significant contributions to their profession, their community, or society in general. Each year, we recognize several individuals and one team or group. Secondly, the proceeds from the event are used to benefit a program or need as chosen by the foundation board based on recommendations from the district administration.
There are sponsorships and advertising opportunities available. People can also make a gift to support the event and the Mental Health Matters Fund or they can purchase tickets and attend. It’s a great night with entertainment provided by student music groups and also a chance for SCASD alumni, faculty, and community members to reconnect.
T&G: How has the district enhanced its focus on student mental health in recent years? What difference have you seen as a result?
Knouse: The district has added mental health to the health curriculum, which means that more students are exposed to mental health issues as part of everyday learning. We also have Universal Screening for Emotional Needs so we can identify trends, which also allows for early identification of at-risk students. That is a big reason why we saw improvement in year over year results in Social Emotional Health in the most recent survey.
We are also more active in partnering with community mental health agencies and with Penn State to provide school-based services and mental health interns throughout the schools in the district, including elementary and middle schools.
T&G: What are the next steps to keep the momentum going, with the support of the fund?
Knouse: We want to provide resources so that the MY Mental Health Matters group can support a club at the middle school level and increase ALL mental health awareness activities at all grade levels within the district.
We would like to have more payment for services for students who do not have insurance or resources to pay for access to professional help from providers in the community.
We also want to provide additional training to faculty and staff on how to deal with social emotional issues. We feel like giving staff more tools to deal with these issues will make a better classroom experience for all students.
T&G: In addition to supporting the fund, how can the community best help to make a difference in the mental well-being of its young people?
Knouse: I think willingness to participate in mental health awareness activities in the district and community, and having conversations with your children about topics such as depression, suicide, and other risk factors are the best ways you can help. Whatever we can do to destigmatize mental health concerns and have open and honest discussions as a community and within our respective families will help us better address these issues.
For more information on the dinner, the fund, or other efforts of the foundation, visit scasdfoundation.org.
Mark Brackenbury is editorial director of Town&Gown.