Students in Kindergarten through eighth grades in the Allegheny-Clarion Valley School District are learning about feelings, friendship, and how to be responsible on social media as part of a collaboration between Vantage Educational Service, LLC and the Slippery Rock University Occupational Therapy program. This 10-week partnership provides programming within the classroom environment designed to teach students how to recognize emotions, manage stress and anxiety, foster healthy social participation, encourage social inclusivity, and be safe and responsible with technology.
Slippery Rock Occupational Therapy program students underwent extensive training provided by Vantage Educational Services to prepare for this collaboration. The students are participating in this programming as part of their educational fieldwork requirements. Occupational therapy practitioners have strong skills to address mental health and psychosocial needs across the lifespan. These skills begin to develop in higher education and grow throughout practice experiences with diverse populations. According to Dr. Miranda Virone, founder of Vantage Educational Services, “addressing the mental health needs of youth in schools has become a high priority for school administrators and parents as the COVID-19 pandemic has left our youth with unprecedented levels of anxiety and widespread depression in its wake. Many kids are not okay, and we need to rally every form of support possible across qualified disciplines to address their mental health needs. Occupational therapy practitioners are poised to do this work with a lens focused on how mental health impacts every aspect of their lives, including education, social participation, and play.”
Dr. Virone, Dr. Mike Fantuzzo, Academic Fieldwork Coordinator from Slippery Rock University’s Occupational Therapy program, and Dr. David McDeavitt, superintendent of Allegheny Clarion Valley School District recognized the value in this partnership to advance the skills of the higher education students while supporting the needs of the district’s students. Dr. McDeavitt explained that “after the A-CV administrative team met with Dr. Virone, we felt confident that this program would offer our students a school to community education initiative that will promote digital health and safety, substance use prevention awareness, and mental health awareness.” Slippery Rock University Occupational Therapy student, Sarah Toppin acknowledges that “teaching kids how to identify their feelings and respond in ways that are healthy is important.” Another student, Sara Chiprean, feels that “learning these skills at a younger age will help kids react better when they are older.
Dr. Virone, a native of Knox, PA, is a passionate supporter of youth mental health. Her work encompasses educational consulting with public and private schools, educating occupational therapy students on youth mental health theory and programming, and pursuing statewide legislation to improve school mental health supports. She is actively seeking future collaborations with public and private schools in Western Pennsylvania who identify the need and value in school mental health programming. If you are interested in learning more about her work, she can be reach by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.