At Propel Schools, the largest charter school federation in Western Pennsylvania, with nearly 4,000 students in our 13 schools, we are keenly aware of the importance of student wellness. That is why three years ago in 2016, Propel pioneered a school-based mental health initiative now called “Partners In Wellness.” We started at our Homestead, Northside and Braddock Hills schools and have since expanded to provide these services to students at all Propel schools.
With three years of experience under our belt, we can affirm that attention must be given to students’ mental and emotional well-being.
Last school year, we realized an increase in family engagement as a result of the program from community service projects to back-to-school nights; Partners In Wellness staff provided a variety of professional development sessions for school staff on topics including trauma, de-escalation techniques, techniques for scholars with ADHD, and self-care for teachers; and scholars benefited from more than 915 therapy hours and learned how to apply strategies for maintaining social, emotional and behavioral wellness. While we were confident before starting our program that the need was there, the actual usage of services has outpaced even what we had projected. This is a sobering reminder of the difficulties that many of our scholars face on a daily basis. While schools cannot provide a replacement for a family, we strive to be a safe and nurturing place where scholars can access these needed services that can enable them to better succeed at school and out of school.
That Propel was able to begin to widely offer these services three years ago, is a perfect example of why school choice generally and charter schools, in particular, remain critically important in Pennsylvania. The Governor, Department of Education and traditional public school districts all are consistently attacking the right of families to choose where to send their children to school and have proposed many “reforms” that would make charter schools subject to even more bureaucratic mandates than those that hobble traditional school districts, thereby crippling the spirit of innovation and improvement that exists in the charter school sector.
The vision for charter schools, as set forth in the charter school law, was to provide expanded choices for families by increasing opportunities for educators, parents, scholars and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure. As such, charter schools should be seen as improving student learning, using innovative practices and providing expanded choices.
Since the opening of our first school in 2003, Propel has fulfilled this vision of the charter school law in numerous respects, and particularly by its mental health initiative that should be a model for the traditional public school districts. We invite representatives of all school districts to visit Propel to learn more.
by Dr. Tina Chekan
Propel Schools CEO/Superintendent