Children who are enrolled in public schools in low-income communities are at a disadvantage both academically and psychologically. These children experience elevated rates of mental health problems due to their environments, family structures, and financial insecurity. At school, their opportunities are restricted as a result of a less than adequate learning environment, minimal resources, and external factors such as increased drug use and violence. All of these factors contribute to diminished behavioral regulation, loss of motivation, and poor academic achievement. Although there are many programs designed to address these issues in urban public schools, few have had substantial success. Obstacles such as feasibility, accessibility, funding, and implementation have prevented them from achieving success. Additionally, the majority of programs are aimed at meeting the needs of the students as a whole, and do not consider the needs of the teachers and children with disabilities.
BRIDGE, Bridging Mental Health and Education in Urban Schools, is a coaching and consultation program that was designed by a team of researchers and created to address all of these issues in urban elementary schools. To test its viability, one of the creators, Elise Cappella of the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University, led a study using 36 classrooms from five different elementary schools in urban communities. After a brief intervention, Cappella and her colleagues saw results.
BRIDGE was directly responsible for increasing emotional support in the classrooms, which gave the children a feeling of security and improved behavioral regulation. The students felt more confident and saw their teacher as an ally, which directly impacted their motivation for success. Overall, the students exceeded the academic, social, and emotional levels of their peers as a result of the teachers’ participation in BRIDGE. Cappella noted that one significant difference between BRIDGE and other programs is the fact that BRIDGE is delivered to teachers by a variety of mental health professionals. This factor makes BRIDGE a program that can be portable, flexible, and easily administered. Teachers are coached in such a way that they become empowered with valuable resources that help bridge the gap often found between students and teachers in disadvantaged school systems. Cappella added, “It is encouraging that a consultation and coaching component of mental health practice based on actual interactions in the elementary classroom and effective strategies to improve these interactions promotes children’s functioning across domains in urban schools.”
Cappella, E., Hamre, B. K., Kim, H. Y., Henry, D. B., Frazier, S. L., Atkins, M. S., & Schoenwald, S. K. (2012). Teacher consultation and coaching within mental health practice: classroom and child effects in urban elementary schools. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027725
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