Rays of Hope: Serving a Community Through Education and Mental Health Support

Raytown School District’s Comprehensive Mental Health Approach Paves the Way for Student Success

Over the years, Raytown Quality Schools has emerged as a beacon of strength and steadfastness in the area – not only as the largest employer in Raytown but also for its commitment to pursuing top-tier education for its students. Serving approximately 8,200 students across 10 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 2 high schools, and various other specialized facilities, the school district leaders embraced the perspective that education goes beyond just academics; it encompasses the mental and emotional well-being of each child as well. 

With this vision in mind, Raytown Schools took a monumental step in partnering with local mental health agencies to create the groundbreaking “Raytown Connect” program. The vision was to weave together the efforts of educators, social workers, and area mental health agencies for the holistic wellness of the students of Raytown School District. Through the support of the Children’s Services Fund of Jackson County (CSF), Raytown Connect’s vision to transform the lives of its children and youth – and thereby the community at large – has begun manifesting real change for the students of Raytown and their families.

Collaborating To Make A Vision Reality: Partnering With the CSF

Dr. Robert Cordell, the Director of Student Support Services at Raytown School District was available to share a little about the journey toward cultivating a holistic ecosystem for students’ academic success.

Six years ago, when he joined the district as Director of Student Support Services, Dr. Cordell recognized the importance of bolstering mental health services for their students. While they had dedicated counselors, only six social workers (across the fifteen-plus campuses!) were available to address the various social, emotional, and academic challenges faced by students. Determined to create a more comprehensive support system, Dr. Cordell worked diligently behind the scenes to increase the number of social workers in the district.

The CSF awarded Raytown Quality Schools with funding for three social worker positions for schools that had never previously had the benefit of such specialized support. When the positions launched in 2019, the initial goal was that these three staff members would focus on mental health support for students, with special attention given to addressing signs of suicide.

Expanding the Safety Net: A Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health

The timing of the CSF’s partnership with Raytown Connect could not have been more significant, as the world was about to face an unprecedented challenge in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. The roles the CSF funded ended up becoming crucial to creating a collaborative network of support that addressed mental and emotional health in unanticipated ways.

In 2020 and the year that followed, the social workers responded to the need they saw in the schools. As the pandemic and lockdowns sent shockwaves across the globe, these dedicated social workers stepped up to provide comprehensive assistance to students and their families. They extended their reach “beyond mental health” to encompass family support, academic engagement, grief and loss counseling, and access to essential care such as food and clean clothes. “Having a social worker on-site, working alongside counselors and school administrators, enabled us to be more proactive in addressing student needs,” emphasized Dr. Cordell. “It’s not just about reacting to issues but working together to promote overall well-being.”

Dr. Cordell continued to share how, pandemic or not, expectations of academic excellence are ill-founded when students do not have a stable home and health ecosystem. “We want all students to succeed academically, “affirmed Dr. Cordell, “but we also want them to have the experience of having multiple caring adults at school who see them as a person, a whole person with realities and stressors outside of school. 

“Caring” in this context is action-oriented: for Dr. Cordell and his staff, it refers to the diligent, time-intensive follow-up it takes to connect a student with resources and a network of support in such a way that the student begins to experience positive change in their day-to-day – before even coming to school.

The Impact: Calmer Hearts, Stronger Students

One of the program’s shining moments came when a social worker recognized signs of distress and food scarcity in a student from a family with eight children. The parents were struggling with unemployment and low-wage jobs, leaving them facing immense challenges. The family’s situation seemed overwhelming, but Raytown Connect’s social worker quickly built a trusting relationship with them, leading to life-changing results. 

They connected the father with local agencies that provided interview practice and resume assistance, ultimately helping him secure a full-time job. The mother received support to complete her GED and, by facilitating connections to a partner agency, the family eventually found stable housing. Raytown Connect’s comprehensive approach addressed all aspects of the family’s needs, from education to food stability and safe and healthy housing. This became the foundation that truly allowed the eight children to engage academically.

Raytown Connect Continues: Inspiring Hope, Building Futures

Despite the upheaval brought on by the pandemic, the presence and work of social workers in the schools proved to be a game-changer. They became the first line of defense against the rising tide of mental health concerns, and Raytown Connect’s collaborative-partnership approach ensured that no student slipped through the cracks. 

The joint efforts of the three social workers have already manifested positive results! Dr. Cordell shared that there has been a significant reduction in discipline referrals in the past academic year, and reported improved student engagement. 

As the new school year approaches, Raytown Connect is poised to continue its vital work with students and families. Dr. Cordell shared that he and his team look forward to expanding their partnership with the CSF in the years to come! Along with the dedicated team of counselors and social workers, Raytown Connect is committed to expanding the program’s reach and improving the lives of even more families of Raytown Quality Schools. 

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