A partnership between Texas Tech and Covenant Health focused on mentoring at risk students
Providence believes education is an essential component of its vision of health for a better world. Disparities in education are intimately linked with income disparities and health challenges, especially for vulnerable populations. Providence is addressing this through partnership between the Center for Adolescent Resiliency at Texas Tech University and Covenant Health, a member of the Providence family in Lubbock, Texas. Together they have created the Community Advocacy Project for Students (CAPS). CAPS advocates for students moving through transitions within the school system; specifically students who have been sent to an alternative education setting and who struggle in returning to their home campus.
Vice president of education and partnerships, Justin Crowe, had the opportunity to meet with Sara Dodd, director for the Center for Adolescent Resiliency at Texas Tech, Linn Walker, director for the CAPS program, and Amy Onofre, assistant director for the CAPS program, during an October 2019 trip to Lubbock. In partnership with Tavia Hatfield, regional community health investment director for Covenant Health, they explained the challenges that these student have – falling behind academically, returning to negative influences from peer groups, and the inability to adjust to a less structured environment. They noted that these challenges often set the student on a course toward a revolving door between the alternative educational setting and their assigned campus.
Enter CAPS, which is designed to serve as an “advocate for the student and a liaison for school administration during this time of transition.” There are weekly meetings between the advocate and the student to set goals and address challenges, grounded in a comprehensive wellness philosophy; advocate-student sessions focus on topics such as healthy relationships, identity, emotional security, physical safety, and belonging. CAPS advocates also facilitate groups throughout the school district to support students struggling with commonly occurring issues such as grief and loss, emotional regulation, and bullying. Through collaboration with school district leadership and individual campus administration, CAPS assists in growing a culture of well-being in the school setting. Students / families also have access to free counseling through Covenant Community Outreach.
This program is differs in that it is rooted in empirical research, but focused on practical application. Kristen Lewis, Counselor for Monterey High School captures the human element of this work in the linked video on the CAPS program - “What has been so beautiful and sweet to see with our advocates… is they come in and just love the person, and they advocate for them and they give them voice. They’re consistent – they show up every time they say they are going to show up. They don’t miss meetings. They’re present. They’re invested in their academic success but they’re also invested in their whole person.”
Linn serves as an advocate for a student who returned from alternative placement to his middle school during his 8th grade year. He got involved in competitive athletics (CA) and had a very successful year, largely because of the accountability to his coaches and having to keep his grades up so he could participate. When Linn visited him his first week of high school she found out he was not in CA; he had not had his physical and his mother had not filled out the necessary paperwork. Because Linn knew this student, she knew what he needed in order to improve his chances for success in high school. His high school counselor and administrators did not know him yet, so he would have easily fallen through the cracks. By advocating for this student, explaining and letting him explain to school administration what he needed, he was moved into CA. It’s important not to miss the impact here - that student was given a better chance to succeed because of Linn’s intervention. Those interventions are happening every day as a result of this program.
The beauty of this program is that it positively impacts the advocates as well. Linn highlighted one advocate’s perspective, “I think that it totally has changed my life, to be an advocate. I know that sounds cliché and lame. But when you get to work with kids, who just sometimes don't have anybody. Or, kids who have people, but maybe don't know how to meet their needs. To get to be that person, especially for the ones who don't trust people, is such an honor. That's probably how I would just describe my experience, just being so honored that kids have opened up, even just a small part of themselves to share.”
This example is indicative of the broader impact of the program. One of the key stakeholders for this work highlighted that “When you think about, if there are five kids in the school, who moved from being top 10 behavior kids [e.g. kids with behavioral issues] or top 20 behavior kids, to not even being on our radar, that’s one of the strongest things you can say about the success of the program.”
Covenant Health and Texas Tech are stepping into the gap to support young people that are at risk is inspiring – work that should be done across the United States. Covenant helps fund this program, provides free counseling to its students, provides mentors and partners with Communities in Schools to connect students to social services, mentoring and tutoring. Covenant Health also operates a nursing school and a radiography school. Tavia Hatfield summarizes it best when she notes that “Covenant Health is committed to providing support for programs that address social determinants of health such as education. Investing in at-risk students to improve their resiliency and self-confidence is an essential piece of creating health for a better world.”