Mental Wellness Check-In with Dr. Jeff Roberts
Dr. Jeff Roberts, Seneca Valley Student Services Director
Dr. Jeff Roberts has been an administrator in the Seneca Valley School District since 2009, and currently serves as the Seneca Valley Supervisor of Gifted Education and Student Services.
He recently earned his degree in doctoral studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Administration and Leadership Studies. In addition to supervising gifted education, Mr. Roberts oversees the school counseling, health service and library departments.
Dr. Roberts is a graduate of the Leadership Butler County program. He is also currently a member of the Butler County Suicide Prevention Coalition, and a board member of the Butler County Alliance for Children.
IN THIS EPISODE, WE WILL REVIEW
FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)
00:00:02:27 - 00:00:10:06
Introduction: Welcome to Voices, a National Award-winning podcast brought to you by the Seneca Valley School District.
00:00:12:01 - 00:00:19:08
Jeff Krakoff: This is Jeff Krakoff. Today we have Dr. Jeff Roberts, who is director of student services at Seneca Valley. Good morning to you.
00:00:19:20 - 00:00:20:12
Jeff Roberts: Good morning.
00:00:21:00 - 00:00:30:14
Jeff Krakoff: So in the title director of student services, can you can we maybe just start with what kinds of things are included under that umbrella of student services?
00:00:30:27 - 00:01:04:14
Jeff Roberts: Absolutely. Great question to start. So in our student services department, we take care of all of the things beyond the curricular instruction so students that have health needs. Our school nurses take care of that and quick shout out to them as being on our front lines related to our COVID mitigations. We're very appreciative of all the work they're doing without. I also oversee our school counseling program. And people think of school counselors as being like therapists, but in truth, they're more focused on academic success.
00:01:04:16 - 00:01:38:16
Jeff Roberts: So when kids need help getting the grades that they should earn also interested in career and post high school. And then lastly, they're focused on social, emotional learning and the kind of skills that you need to be successful in life. So those are school counselors. I also oversee our school psychologists that help identify kids that might have learning differences. And I oversee our gifted education, special education departments. And then I also oversee the things that relate to mental health.
00:01:38:18 - 00:01:42:05
Jeff Roberts: So our efforts as a district to be able to focus on mental wellness.
00:01:42:20 - 00:01:50:06
Jeff Krakoff: Got it. So, yeah, tell us a little bit more about the mental health and wellness services that are available to students and families.
00:01:50:21 - 00:02:33:26
Jeff Roberts: Absolutely. So our mental wellness program, I would say that the hub of that wheel is our school counselors. So they are experts at making connections for families. So when a family calls in and says they're concerned because their student seems upset over the loss of a loved one, then they're able to kind of identify, you know, is that a support that we can provide at school? Is it kind of a a simpler sort of thing? Or would somebody more with more expertise be a better connection? So school counselors provide that. Our school psychologists do as well, but they work with a smaller subset of of students, so usually at school counselors that make that connection.
00:02:34:26 - 00:03:09:02
Jeff Roberts: But mental wellness really starts in the classroom. So our LEAD Program L-E-A-D is a program that we use of the district to promote social, emotional learning skills and so LEAD in classroom meetings happen in our elementary level and help kids develop the skills to be successful in interacting with each other, to be to be future focused, to be ready for further their success and and to be able to thrive in life after high school.
00:03:09:21 - 00:03:46:00
Jeff Roberts: But those also include lessons on mental wellness. So, you know, when you don't feel yourself, when you're not able to focus on your studies, you know it's a. At this point in our country, all of us have been traumatized over the COVID 19 pandemic, and everybody deals with that differently. Some kids, some kids, are able to bounce back and just focus on their studies. Other kids, you know, are worried about what might happen in the future. And that's certainly natural. And so our school counselors are trained to be able to support kids from a trauma informed lens.
00:03:46:08 - 00:03:59:18
Jeff Roberts: And actually, our teachers are as well. We just did a training session with them last month focused on how to support students that are experiencing symptoms of trauma, just not being able to focus on their studies, for example.
00:04:00:01 - 00:04:06:16
Jeff Krakoff: Right. So how many counselors and psychologists are there within the district?
00:04:07:09 - 00:04:34:00
Jeff Roberts: Great question. So we have a minimum of one counselor per building, so at the elementary level, the ratios are a little higher. And then at the secondary level, because there's more focus toward career planning and things like that, the ratios are a little lower. We have a total of 20 counselors across our nine buildings. And then we have six school psychologists that support our students as they're being identified for special needs. That's their focus.
00:04:34:08 - 00:04:44:21
Jeff Krakoff: Got it. I imagine they're they're all extremely busy. Can you give us some type of an idea? So you've got 20 people in a large district like Seneca Valley?
00:04:46:11 - 00:04:53:19
Jeff Krakoff: In general terms, how many students take advantage of some of the resources and services you provide for mental health?
00:04:54:18 - 00:05:26:27
Jeff Roberts: So our school counselors, you know, they would be responsible for their whole caseload, so at I'll just give one example at our intermediate high school. The 1,200 students there are split between four counselors, so they each have about 300 students that they see. And, you know, probably 30 to 50 of those students, they see pretty regularly because they need some specific supports. And those supports are different. You know, some are having struggles getting to school on a regular basis. Some are struggling to be able to focus in the classroom.
00:05:27:27 - 00:06:01:06
Jeff Roberts: But many of those students would benefit from more support than what the school provides. And when we talk about mental wellness, one of the options is therapy. And, you know, as a couple of different options when it comes to therapy that families can choose from, and we want to be very supportive of what is the best option for that family. So as a district, we're not going to say you need to go with this therapist or that therapist. That's really not our business. We would never do that with a pediatrician, and we would never do that with a mental health therapist, either.
00:06:02:20 - 00:06:12:09
Jeff Krakoff: So as far outside, therapists do have relationships with outside organizations, and there are a lot of them one of them. How does that work?
00:06:12:24 - 00:06:24:02
Jeff Roberts: Sure. So if a family was to call in and say I'm concerned about my son or daughter, school counselor would say, You know, what's the concern? Is this something that you think,
00:06:25:19 - 00:06:56:00
Jeff Roberts: you know, an in-school therapist would be able to be a good match? And you know, here's a couple of possibilities. You know, does a student have a really packed schedule? And it would be impossible for them to, you know, take study whole time to be able to go see a therapist. You know, perhaps the need for the student is very specialized. You know, maybe they're focused on an eating disorder. And you know, we need a very specific counselor to support that. So if that's the case, the school counselor would, with the permission of the parent, make a referral.
00:06:56:20 - 00:07:32:22
Jeff Roberts: And that referral would go to our Care Solace program and Care Solace is a connecting point. So their job and it's a free service to parents through Seneca Valley is to connect the family with the right therapist. So if a parent calls in and say I'd like that, then a Care Solace, Care Companion would call or text and would ask about, you know, what's the need? Is it anxiety? Is it depression? Is it a concern about substance use? You know what? What's the help that's needed? And then they would ask questions about insurance and Care
00:07:32:24 - 00:08:03:16
Jeff Roberts: Solace will work with the family if they have no insurance, if they have Medicaid, if they have, you know, are looking for a provider that's on a sliding scale, that would be cash-based or, you know, the big insurance companies, Highmark and UPMC and Aetna, those folks. So they try to match the family with the right therapist. And what I love about it is they'll give the family at least two option. So here's therapist one and here's therapist two, and you can make a choice about what would make sense. They will then schedule the appointment for you.
00:08:04:11 - 00:08:34:25
Jeff Roberts: And then after the appointment has taken place, they'll call back and check to see how it went and see if that's a good match or whether we should keep working on it. I'm so excited about that because before Care Solace, our school counselors would do the same thing just based on their own head knowledge. Well, maybe you should call this provider and then family call us back in a couple of days and says, I'm sorry that providers full or they don't take our insurance. You know, our school counselors are responsible to connect families.
00:08:35:05 - 00:08:47:22
Jeff Roberts: But the mental health landscape is so complex, as you know, and we really need somebody that's a specialist that kind of understands that world to be able to help families. I'm thrilled about it because.
00:08:49:17 - 00:09:07:02
Jeff Roberts: They do the hard work of making the connections and making the phone calls because moms and dads are very, very busy in this day and age, and it's hard to make a call during office hours to be able to connect with somebody and to be truthful our providers are really busy and so they don't always pick up the phone if they're in a session with the client.
00:09:07:07 - 00:09:31:07
Jeff Krakoff: Yeah. Well, I know, I know. Right before the podcast, we were chatting a little bit and you likened it to a care concierge very much like when you see the ads on television for some of the insurance carriers. And I think that's a good way to put it. So who are these folks that that are the the person that is going to be contacted at Care Solace?
00:09:31:09 - 00:10:05:11
Jeff Roberts: Yeah, so the the Care Companions, as they are referred to, are highly-trained customer service agents that understand mental health. So they know what insurance needs are, they understand the insurance in the area. One of the things I love about this partnership is they're 24-7, 365. So when you know we're on a school holiday, it's President's Day. They're still working and making connections. You know, when we break for the summer, they're going to be available to help families because mental health needs don't stop as soon as school's out for the summer, they continue.
00:10:06:06 - 00:10:29:00
Jeff Roberts: And they also are available in a number of languages. So we have families that their native language might be Spanish or it might be Portuguese, and we're able to connect families at a point where they're very vulnerable and, you know, seeking out services. I love that because it's difficult to provide to find providers in other languages, and that's one of the things that they can do for us.
00:10:29:07 - 00:10:40:04
Jeff Krakoff: What a great resource that is. So if I'm a student or a parent and I want to reach out and get involved with some of your services, how do I do that?
00:10:41:00 - 00:11:14:04
Jeff Roberts: Excellent question. So it would it would make the most sense to call into a school counselor and say, here's my situation, and they can kind of help you decide would in-school therapy be a great option for that child? You know, if if in-school therapy is a good option, then you don't have to worry about transporting them after school to the therapist's office, you don't have to worry about, you know, waiting in the waiting room and all of those kind of things. But in a lot of cases, out of school therapy makes sense, and the school counselor can kind of help families weigh those two options and make an informed decision.
00:11:14:06 - 00:11:44:09
Jeff Roberts: So the first and best way would be to reach out to a school counselor. But in the example I gave a couple of minutes ago, if it's Saturday and it's going to be a couple of days before you, you know, school is open, you can also go to CareSolace.Com/Seneca Care. And that's a self-service page, so you can go in there and do the very same things on your own. So I need somebody. I need help for my family related to depression and answer some questions.
00:11:44:11 - 00:12:14:04
Jeff Roberts: And again, Care Solace will offer to do the matching for you. Or you can just view the list of providers and local area if you want to do it all yourself. That's perfectly fine. I should say Seneca Valley we don't have a vested interest in one provider. We're just providing information through Care Solace so families can make an informed decision. And I think that's an important piece. Everybody needs to be comfortable with the option that they select. And so we want to be able to provide the information so people can make a good decision. Yeah.
00:12:14:10 - 00:12:35:21
Jeff Krakoff: Well, mental health is a topic of discussion, basically in every realm of life and every place, whether it's work, school, home. So, so glad you were able to share some of this great information for us all. Again, that's Dr. Jeff Roberts, who's director of student services at Seneca Valley School District. Thanks again and have a great day.
00:12:36:11 - 00:12:37:12
Jeff Roberts: Thanks, Jeff. My pleasure.
00:12:37:21 - 00:12:38:08
Jeff Krakoff: Take care.