Therapeutic Day Program

BCM SUPPORTS MENTAL HEALTH CARE, EDUCATION FOR STUDENTS

A major need in New Orleans public schools is help for students with mental health issues. Kids in New Orleans are four and a half times more likely than their peers to show posttraumatic stress disorder and serious emotional disturbances.*

Liz Marcell in a classroom at the Therapeutic Day School campus. At right, Matthew Kittredge, para-professional, and teacher Kelsey Hoffman work with a student.

The Therapeutic Day Program, which opened last year on the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts campus in Bywater with support from Baptist Community Ministries, sees hope amid the challenges. In bright classrooms in a fresh, renovated building, Executive Director Elizabeth Marcell and a staff with specialized training are optimistic they are starting something new and greatly needed.

“We are the first step in building out a center, where children with severe emotional difficulties can be served,” Marcell says. “We want to make sure children have services that are appropriate and help address their needs.”

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade, referred from public schools, receive education and behavioral therapy over a regular school day in small classrooms. Each student has been thoroughly evaluated and has an individual treatment and educational plan. Specially trained staff combine positive behavioral supports and evidence-based mental health practices with classroom instruction and recreation. Though numbers are now small with only 13 students, the program has plans to grow. Next year, there will be more students and more services.

“Our students are not delinquent. They are here because of the intensity of their mental health needs. Many have persistent exposure to violence,” Marcell says. The program adopts a four-level behavioral therapeutic system, and students can take months to meet benchmarks. Yet this approach is recognized as the most effective, age-appropriate way to provide healing and hope. Goals include returning students to their home schools—and reducing admissions to hospitals for mental health problems.

The Therapeutic Day Program, an initiative of the Recovery School District, Orleans Parish School Board and Tulane Medical School Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, is becoming a nonprofit organization with expansion plans. “We want to fill in all the gaps,” Marcell says. “We want to handle all these students’ therapeutic needs.”

“We are the first step in building out a center, where children with severe emotional difficulties can be served,” Marcell says. “We want to make sure children have services that are appropriate and help address their needs.”

*Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies “In that Number” campaign: inthatnumber-iwes.org

Legacy of Katrina: The Impact of a Flawed Recovery on Vulnerable Children of the Gulf Coast. (2010). Children’s Health Fund and The National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health