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Designing mental health services for a small and highly personalized high school

Amy Elizabeth Bayer, Johnson & Wales University


The number of adolescents in the United States who have mental health problems is as high as 22% and yet fewer than 20% of them receive any kind of mental health care (National Advisory Mental Health Council, 1999). Many researchers have argued that in order for students to be able to concentrate on their schooling, their mental health problems must be addressed (Carlson, Paavola, & Talley, 1995; Dryfoos, 1994; Knitzer, Steinbery & Fleisch, 1990; Mintzies & Hare, 1985; Tyack, 1992). One small high school in Providence, RI, the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (Met), has tried to address the social and psychological issues of its students by providing a personalized educational program for each student. But even at this school where there is a student/teacher ratio of fourteen to one, the staff has discovered that the students still present mental health issues that extend beyond the scope of the teacher's time and expertise. In addition to needing more accessible mental health care for Met students and their families, the school needs to design a way to integrate such care into the overall structure of the school. Because the Met is a school where students are encouraged to talk about their challenges and personal struggles as a means of increasing their self-awareness, the staff is interested in developing a new model to address the mental health needs in the school. In this study, a thorough needs assessment was conducted through interviews with students, families, and faculty to determine the nature and extent of mental health service needs at the Met. The researcher then closely examined existing mental health models at schools around the country to identify design elements appropriate for the Met. Because there are few small, highly personalized high schools that have created model approaches to providing mental health services, the researcher visited twenty-two high schools that ranged in size from fifty-six to four thousand. Based on the design elements found through site visits to these schools, the researcher created a proposed model for a mental health program at the Met. This model was then critiqued by a panel of mental health experts and their feedback was incorporated into the study. Because the Met is a school model that is being replicated across the country with support from the Gates Foundation, this mental health program could be replicated too. It may also inform small, highly personalized, nontraditional high schools about how to address mental health issues.

Subject Area

School counseling|Health education|Secondary education|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Bayer, Amy Elizabeth, "Designing mental health services for a small and highly personalized high school" (2002). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3053937.