The Delran school district has strengthened its commitment to the mental health of students and their families with a new program first considered before the pandemic.
As the assistant superintendent of Student Services, Dr. Lisa Della Vecchia oversees the Special Education Program, IEP and 504 plans and is also the head of counseling services.
Changes were made in the district after it compiled data and research on the 3,000 students who attend four public schools and noted many of them struggled with anxiety and depression.
“First, the students would get lessons on mental health in their classrooms,” Della Vecchia said. “They would be educated on mental health and how it looks and feels.”
Last year, students were screened by Della Vecchia’s team to see what mental-health services were needed for each child. Students would meet one on one to discuss their concerns.
“Students were placed into tiers, between those who have an immediate need for therapy and those who only need counseling.” Della Vecchia explained. The students were also put into either individual or group sessions.
“Without students being able to feel well,” she added, “they can’t focus on academics. Based on data, high-achieving students are the ones struggling with mental-health problems.”
Della Vecchia is involved with state organizations and committees who implement mental-health programs in schools.
“Not a lot of districts in the state have professional licensed counselors in schools as staff members,” she noted. “Our school district has two.”
District changes were inspired by the pandemic, as students struggled while learning remotely.
“Students experienced family stress with parents losing jobs, sickness, death due to COVID and exposure to trauma,” Della Vecchia said. “They didn’t have school to come to every day.”
The first day of school is coming up, and Della Vecchia provided advice for students worried about going back.
“Reach out to a teacher, administrator or guidance counselor for support,” she advised. “Not just for academics, but other issues, too.”
Della Vecchia wants to support a student’s whole family. She said parents contact the district by phone or email all the time for support and services.
The district recently signed a contract with Care Solace, a program available to students, parents and staff members. Its website matches a potential patient with a therapist within 24 hours.
“There is a 500 to 1 ratio of providers, so this helps you partner quickly,” said Della Vecchia. “Mental health is health. Like a fever and a cold, you have to go to a doctor.”
Services are both in person and remote.