Sanford partners with school to support students in need

Systems of Support program encourages positive behavior in middle schoolers

A Sanford Health psychologist wearing a face mask takes notes on a plush couch while listening to an unseen student.

It’s a pattern as old as school itself: a student acts up in class, they’re sent to the principal’s office, rinse and repeat.

That’s why Sanford Health has partnered up with Simle Middle School in Bismarck, North Dakota, to try something new.

“Systems of Support began here five years ago,” said Russ Riehl, principal of Simle Middle School. “A group of administrators and teachers, they helped create that initial piece of ‘teach-to’s, behaviors we wanted to see in students, and how we were going to get it to all kids throughout our building.”

A new program for an old problem

Now the Systems of Support program works differently, hoping to break the cycle of bad behavior and punishment. Instead of a trip to the principal’s office for every offender, there are tiers.

The first tier is where all students begin. After a few small transgressions, they may move to tier two. Finally, tier three is for students with more serious behavioral issues, or those who may need additional support. These students get one-on-one meetings with a Sanford Health psychologist.

“Sanford Health provides mental health services that are school-based to students at Simle Middle School,” said Nicole Cross-Hillman, Psy.D., a psychologist with Sanford Health who works with Simle students. “It has been so helpful in reducing barriers to access to mental health services.”

School staff says the program is working the way they had hoped.

“A lot of our students come to me and they’re like, ‘When is my next appointment with Dr. Cross-Hillman? Do I get to see her today?’ So they actually come to school and look forward to their meeting because it’s a safe person to talk to,” said Chelsi Hertz, parent/family liaison at Simle Middle School.

Positive partnership

Sanford provides the program to the school at no cost. Simle Middle School partners with Sanford Health for behavioral health services, and they also partner with Midwest Dairy to provide access to healthy breakfasts for students as well. Teachers said they noticed a difference in kids’ behavior when they came to class after eating breakfast — they were more attentive and ready to learn.

“When you have partners like Sanford, like Midwest Dairy, you’re not doing it alone,” said Riehl. “And you bring in so much expertise. So schools need to understand that these partners are out there and they’re willing to help us.”

With this program, Sanford Health hopes to show that treating students differently than in the past, and providing positive reinforcement, can help change behaviors in schools and beyond.

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Posted In Back to School, Behavioral Health, Bismarck, Children's, Community

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