According to an information sheet put out by the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses (NAMI), it reports the National Institute on Mental Health states it is a fact that one in five children age 13–18 will have a serious mental health issue. In fact, 20% of the youth live with a mental health condition, 11% of the youth have a mood disorder, 10% have a behavior or conduct disorder and 8% are dealing with anxiety.
The National Institute on Mental Health also states that 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24. The average delay between onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years. Approximately 50% of students age 14 and older with a mental illness drops out of high school. Seventy percent of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10 – 24. Ninety percent of those who died by suicide had an underlying mental illness.
As children’s mental health increases, the Root River Program in Harmony, Minn., is a unique therapeutic and academic school that can address the need. The program assists students on Individual Education Program (IEP) from grades 5-12 that are showing signs of emotional distress or behaviors that impedes with their academic learning. The program serves students from Fillmore County and has served students from Houston, Mower, Olmsted and Winneshiek County, as well. The program is a safe place for students to grow, while at the same time challenges them to succeed emotionally and academically.
Many of the students are placed in the program because they have emotional or behavioral barriers to academic, social and/or personal success. There is a part-time Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) and a mental health practitioner, who provides group counseling to the students that attend the school-based program. By attending therapy sessions, students focus on developing strategies for coping with life events. Students participate in two groups a day, ranging from emotional regulation to social skill development.
At Root River, students complete their academic requirements and transition back to their home school after showing improvement in response o the intensive therapeutic services. Students show improvement through tracking their success on our structured level system. The ideal average length of time for students to attend Root River before transitioning out is 18 months.
Also on site are teachers and a paraprofessional, contracted through Fillmore Central Schools. The program’s Individual Education Program (IEP) case manager coordinates the academic classes each student needs in order to stay on track to graduate from their home district. Course work is individualized for each student based on the student’s school district’s requirements and which classes the student has already taken.
The Root River Program should not be confused as an alternative school that students can enroll. Students must be placed at the program by their home school district. Another important element is that the Root River Program should not be considered a “last chance” program because here we still look at other options. Instead, it’s a place where students can learn that they do have positive control over their own lives.
As the mental health of children increases, we can have a peace of mind that there is a place where students can go to grow and learn to regulate their emotions.