RSU 56 seeking mental health services for at-risk students

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DIXFIELD — The Regional School Unit board of directors voted Tuesday night to seek a part-time mental health provider for Dirigo High School students, after the principal reported dealing with a “significant” number of issues.

Principal Lisa Twomey, who is in her first year as principal, told the board she is seeing “significant” mental health issues from students.

“Frankly, I‘ve been doing a lot of work dealing with individual students coming in presenting with different needs. I would say that DHS currently has 23 at-risk students, and those risk factors I’ve sort of quantified as either a risk of self-harm, a threat to other people, or environmental factors in the family,” Twomey said.

Superintendent Pam Doyen said she and other school administrators met with Oxford County Mental Health Services representatives recently to inquire about services to meet students’ needs.

She said she and the administrative team have prepared a three-pronged approach to address the issue.

“One is making sure there is somebody in the building who can meet the mental health needs. The second piece is making sure we’re a trauma-informed culture; so all of our staff members, so everybody knows what to do if a student is in crisis. And the third piece is making sure that we have our policies in place so that we all know what we need to be doing,” Doyen said.

Director Bruce Ross said suicide affected his family not long ago. “Suicide is there, so high, right now it’s not funny. And the sad thing is that it’s the ones that aren’t coming forward that are the biggest risk. There are a lot of ones out there who won’t seek help if it’s seen that they’re seeking help. If you have the services available only during class time they’re not going to seek help,” he said.

“If we’re going to hire someone we need to have (services) available that’s on class time and out of class time,” Ross insisted.

The board voted to look for a provider to offer services three hours a day, five days a week.

In other business, the board approved switching a speech/language aide position to an educational technician III position because of the lack of qualified candidates.

“So, if we go with an ed tech they can still assist our current speech and language (therapist),” Doyen said.

The board also approved a trip to Boston and New York City for students in grades six to 12 in April 2020. Educators Bethany Meehan-Poulin and Laura Johnston said the trip will include science, technology, engineering and mathematics workshops, and sightseeing tours.

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Superintendent Pam Doyen, center, explains how she and school administrators have prepared a three-pronged approach to address the issue of student mental health needs at Dirigo High School during the RSU 56 board of directors meeting on Tuesday. To her left is board director Barbara Chow of Dixfield and Payroll and Accounts Payable administrator Cathy Arsenault sits to Doyen’s right. (Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times)

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