Enhancing the Capacity of Rural Schools to Identify, Prevent, and Intervene in Youth Mental Health Concerns

Purpose

A consortium of researchers and rural school districts across Missouri, Virginia, and Montana are establishing the National Center for Rural School Mental Health (NCRSMH) to enhance the capacity of rural schools to identify, prevent, and intervene in youth mental health concerns. Nearly 20 percent of school-age children experience serious mental health issues yet few receive services, a situation exacerbated in rural settings. Rural communities are incorrectly perceived as having fewer mental health needs given their small populations and low residential density. This along with their geographic isolation and scarce resources has resulted in limited mental health service options for rural youth and their families.

NCRSMH will develop and evaluate a comprehensive, public health, and prevention science approach to systematic mental health screening and supports for rural schools. NCRSMH builds on an IES researcher-practitioner partnership that is validating the Early Identification System (EIS) through the Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition. The current EIS model includes an online youth mental health risk screening tool; a dashboard system for schools to review and use the data to select school, classroom, and individual evidence-based interventions (EBIs) matched to each problem area identified by the screener; and outcome and fidelity monitoring tools. The specific planned enhancements to the current EIS model are the addition of a school climate measure to support assessment of school-level factors and professional development and coaching to support implementation of the EIS model. Involving rural school partners in the iterative development process is expected to improve the capacity of rural school personnel to feasibly use reliable measures and access data dashboards, appropriate interventions, and fidelity monitoring tools to improve rural youth mental health. NCRSMH will provide leadership in rural education research through national dissemination of the EIS model and the partnership process that supported its design and evaluation.

Population/Sample

All rural school districts (fringe, distant, remote/frontier) in Missouri, Virginia, and Montana from different geographic regions of the United States (Central, Appalachia, and Northwest) serving students K to 12 will be invited to join NCRSMH.

Research Projects

The NCRSMH research team will collaborate with rural school partners to examine, refine, and build upon each of the existing EIS practices and tools so they are easily accessible within a web-based framework in a variety of rural school settings. NCRSMH will carry out this work in three phases.

Phase 1: Partnership Development

NCRSMH will expand the existing partnership to inform the expansion of the EIS model into a more diverse set of rural schools. This begins with a kick-off retreat in Year 1 to invite school partners, develop and refine the research plan for the Center, and establish roles and responsibilities. Regular meetings will occur over the life of the Center, including annual consensus conferences where partners share and discuss Center research and products and develop a consensus statement.

Phase 2: Refinement and Expansion of the Early Identification System (EIS)

The research team working in partnership with the schools plans to add a measure of school climate, expand the list of EBIs in the menu of options, and incorporate professional development and coaching supports based on the web-based Classroom Check-up and Double Check models. They will use the ADDIE instructional design model for intervention development – analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation – to guide this work in Years 2 and 3.

Phase 3: Evaluation of the Full EIS Model

The researchers will test the efficacy of the fully developed EIS model with 110 schools located in rural districts in Missouri, Virginia, and Montana. They will randomly assign schools to implement the EIS model or continue typical practice to determine impact on student academic, social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes.

Leadership and Dissemination Activities:

  • A Center website to share research findings, practice guides, opportunities to request training and consultation from NCRSMH researchers, and webcasts describing EIS model implementation.
  • Publications in peer-reviewed scholarly journals; annual consensus statements in the form of white papers, edited books, and special issues for journals; and outcome reports for school partners.
  • Joint presentations by NCRSMH researchers and schoolpartners at state, regional, and national conferences.
  • A policy toolkit for state and national policymakers, offices of public instruction, and local school districts.
  • Mentoring by senior members and active IES and OSEP training grants at the University of Missouri and the University of Virginia for undergraduate and graduate students and early- and mid-career researchers.
  • Data sets suitable and appropriate for use in large-scale longitudinal research that will be made available to other researchers.