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Osky Board of Education sees success in mental health program

The Oskaloosa Herald - 11/11/2022

Nov. 9—OSKALOOSA — The Oskaloosa Board of Education is focusing on providing mental healthcare services for students who are most in need.

At the end of school year 2021, the Oskaloosa Board of Education received a grant in the amount of $184,000 to be spent on mental health and related services. The grant money has a time limit of two years and must be used by the end of June.

Melanie Hatch, director of student services for the Oskaloosa School District, updated the board on progress that has already been made using the grant money, along with goals the district has going forward.

"Our focus was on making sure we had accessible mental health services for students, training for our staff, suicide prevention and partnership with community organizations," said Hatch at the board's regular meeting Tuesday night. "We have secured a mental health provider ... Last year, I told you what a struggle it was for us to find a mental health provider. We still are struggling ... but we have secured someone."

The provider secured by the school is Todd Swope, a local therapist. Swope rotates through the district's schools throughout the week, seeing students by appointment. While Hatch said the school initially struggled to get students and their parents to participate in the program, she told the board Swope is now seeing 77 students throughout the district, which is the maximum number possible in his appointment schedule.

With Swope's schedule full and the demand for mental health services through the school still high, Hatch told the board the district is now having to prioritize which students get seen first. Swope has convinced a colleague to join him in providing mental health services to the school, showing the positive response the program has received.

Hatch told the board she is seeking collaboration with Swope to determine "what might be the best way that's a win-win for everyone." She said the district does not want to deny anyone.

In light of the demand for these services, one of the next questions the board says needs to be addressed is how to continue offering these services after the end of June, when the original grant has run out.

"Grants should be like a pilot, right? We want to test it, and then if we like it, we need to find a way to sustain it," said Mike Fisher, superintendent for Oskaloosa Community Schools. "Obviously we can see this has a lot of value to our community, our kids, so Mel [Hatch] and I have already started to have conversations with other providers in the community to see if we can start to create more partnerships that are sustainable, then looking at at-risk funding and different things that could do that."

Fisher said one possible solution is that many of the services currently provided by the school could be billed to Medicaid or insurance. Access to services the school provides, which eliminates the need for extra transportation to and from appointments as well as missed days of school, might be the one of the most important elements to the program.

"I think, again, the grant is a pilot, but I think the data is going to show this as a need, and then we're going to have to figure out as a district, how do we continue to provide this," Fisher said.

Channing Rucks can be reached at


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