Dear Decaturish – Decatur Student Center helps students make healthy choicesDianne Acuña Andree, Student Success Coordinator, speaks to Sean Cohen, a Decatur Student Center intern. Image provided to Decaturish
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We are writing to update the community on an innovative public-private partnership at the Decatur Student Center (DSC), which is bringing together mental health professionals, a local university, community foundations, nonprofits, businesses, teachers, and parents to support the needs of students and their families.
The DSC provides individual and small group counseling and classroom psychoeducation and food and clothing pantries. It was envisioned by several Decatur High School teachers who realized there were many students who needed supports and interventions beyond the classroom. Teacher concerns, coupled with the death of Joe Bodine, a student from DHS Class of 2015 who lost his battle with addiction in 2016, led to the support of the Decatur Education Foundation. The Student Success Coordinator position was created in 2017, along with the Student Success Counselor position held by Erica Craig, a licensed social worker and registered drama therapist.
The DSC is a calm, quiet space with comfortable couches, pillows, and blankets. It is a haven from the high-energy hallways and classrooms of Decatur High School. Many students are working to overcome serious challenges – including those at home and with peers; they need tools and knowledge to navigate stress and anxiety and to make healthy choices. The DSC is a place where students can share their fears and, through various pathways, receive the help they need to become healthy adults.
Key to the DSC’s success has been the support of the Superintendent, Wilson Center staff and local school administrations. The DSC leadership developed important partnerships leading to increased capacity and support, including from Georgia State University’s masters’ level community mental health internship program. Another important contributor is the Pathways2Life Partnership, which provided substance-abuse prevention classes to Renfroe and Decatur High School students. Such classes are a top priority. In a 2018 Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA) screening of 370 Decatur 10th and 11th grade students, nearly half of students surveyed reported using substances in the past 12 months, a very concerning statistic.
Students reported a higher understanding of the risk of alcohol, e-cigarettes and marijuana use after Pathways classes. DHS students, in particular, showed high rates of increased awareness and concern about alcohol and drugs, with students surveyed demonstrating a significant (30%) improvement in the desire to abstain from abusing alcohol.
Prevention and intervention work across the middle and high school established the relationships necessary to have a safe atmosphere to discuss substance use, misuse and abuse. Most importantly, these services reduced suspensions for students and supported families at the middle and high school levels.
Many groups have been strongly engaged including the Decatur Parents Network, Decatur Prevention Initiative, and the Decatur Education Foundation, with new partners in 2020 including the United Way, Sane in the Membrane, the Pathways Transition Program, and Cornerstone Bank.
We are very excited about what this group of partners has been able to do in such a short period of time. In 2020 the DSC will be moving to a larger space with expanded food pantry and clothing closet. The DSC team welcomes anyone who is interested in supporting our students to join this diverse and dedicated team of partners.
The Decatur Student Center accepts referrals from students, teachers, and members of the community. The link for referrals is available on the DSC Instagram account @decaturstudentcenter, or by clicking on this link or accessing the QR code below.
Dianne Acuña Andree
Student Success Coordinator
City Schools of Decatur
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