By Jill Flanders, former elementary school principal, and Heather Pach, school psychologist
As more schools understand the value of mental health screening, questions arise around best practices for setting up systems for the screening and evaluation process. The National Center for School Mental Health (NCSMH) has led the development of the School Health Assessment and Performance Evaluation (SHAPE) System to guide schools in answering some of those questions. SHAPE is an assessment and data collection tool developed for the express purpose of supporting school mental health services and quality improvement by using evidence-based practices for screening and response to diagnoses.
SHAPE: A Product of Collaboration
The Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC) Network has been assisting the NCSMH in developing curricula and activities for SHAPE for direct application in school districts across the country. Some of the nation’s leading experts in social emotional learning, children’s mental health, and curriculum development have come together to provide a robust tool for school leaders to use to guide their process of designing a mental health service support team.
NCSMH also pledges to assist schools directly in documenting current components of mental health support, assessing a school/district’s current system, prioritizing improvement efforts, and tracking improvement over time. The NCSMH wants schools to know that they are not alone in these efforts. Representatives work closely with schools to improve their mental health support systems by connecting them to local trainers and exemplar schools.
An Overview of SHAPE
Schools may opt to enroll in the SHAPE program as individual reporters, or as My School, My District, or My State. The initial access to the SHAPE program involves an investment of time in creating the baseline data forms that will then be entered into a national database. The initial forms include the reporter’s assessment of Teaming, Needs Assessments and Screening, Mental Health Promotion Services, Early Intervention and Treatment, Funding and Sustainability, and Impact. Each of these six assessments are updated by the school point person over the course of a school year, and results and suggestions are shared confidentially.
When you begin to explore the SHAPE website and its varied offerings, the volume of valuable information can be overwhelming. However, when used strategically, the SHAPE support and resources can enhance what schools and districts are already doing to improve students’ mental health outcomes.
Becoming a part of the SHAPE program gives the enrolled school or district access to the National School Mental Health Curriculum and the National School Mental Health Learning Collaborative (supported by MHTTC). Once enrollment is completed, teams will then be able to:
Self-assess school mental health resources, staffing, and service array
Self-assess quality and sustainability performance
Self-assess trauma responsiveness
View and print free customized reports
Obtain free school mental health tools and resources
Access a Screening and Assessment Library of measures related to student success
Achieve SHAPE recognition to increase opportunities for federal, state, and local grant funding
Be “counted” in the National School Mental Health Census
Using SHAPE in Your School or District: Our Perspectives
As a practicing school psychologist, I see the greatest benefit of SHAPE in its evaluation of the strengths and needs of your overall program. It allows your district or school to more fully engage in a data-driven Scientific Research Based Intervention (SRBI) selection process for mental health. This will be most helpful for districts that truly are committed to digging deep to create or revamp their SRBI process. Once a school/district initially registers, they receive a message from a partnered organization, for example, the Child Health and Development Institute in Connecticut. These non-profit organizations provide free technical assistance and support to schools or districts using SHAPE. In many instances, experts in child development, mental health, and screening can come onsite to provide any assistance that should be needed to move forward with this process. Many districts wishing to improve their tiered mental health services will find that if they are willing to commit the needed time to take full advantage of this initiative, it will provide valuable feedback and resources. Heather Pach, School Psychologist at Chesire Public Schools and C-TLC Fellow
As a former public elementary school principal, I can see the value of the SHAPE System and I wish this kind of resource had been available during my tenure. My school served the youngest children in our district, pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade. We had a marvelous student support team with a behavior therapist, a school psychologist, a special education team leader, a teacher, a paraprofessional, the school nurse, and myself. It would have been a tremendous support to have this team collaborate in submitting the SHAPE forms, establishing our baseline, and learning where we could and should improve our services. My one concern would be the amount of time needed to begin the process, but it would be time well spent. Jill Flanders, former elementary school principal and current social emotional education advocate in Massachusetts and CEI Board Member
The SHAPE system and the National School Mental Health Curriculum can offer essential guidance to schools who wish to create or improve the quality of their school-based mental health support system. However, it’s also important to foster the compassionate school community that helps buffer against the effects of trauma and mental health concerns for all students. As schools and districts use these tools, it’s critical to continue to build relationships and listen to students’ voices.