Midland Park: Therapeutic Day School Combines Mental Health Care With Academics

Source: North Jersey.com

Teenagers who have spent time in a hospital or emergency room for an emotional crisis often need more psychological support than a high school or middle school can give them. This month, those in North Jersey got another option: a new therapeutic day school in Midland Park, where academics and mental health care get equal weight.

The Paradigm Therapeutic Day School, a subsidiary of nonprofit Care Plus NJ, accepts students who are referred by their school districts and may have attempted suicide or received a diagnosis of severe depression, anxiety or phobia about school, among other mental-health issues.

“Children who suffer anxiety and depression can be in a therapeutic environment where they can thrive,” said Tara Augustine, the chief executive officer of the school and chief operating officer of Care Plus NJ. “They can learn and grow.”

One in five people aged 13 to 18 in the United States lives with a mental health condition, and half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, experts say. School districts may be unsure about how to include teens with such diagnoses in regular classes or may have recommended in-home instruction.

The Paradigm School integrates mental-health care with special education. It is the “only state-approved therapeutic day school that is part of a continuum of service of the largest private provider of behavioral and mental health services in the region,” said Jeffrey Kahn, the school’s principal and executive director.

“We call it EduCare,” said Maureen Kerne, special education coordinator for 13 districts in Bergen County, who helped transform the idea for the school into a reality. “The beauty of this program is that it has the 24-hour wraparound care of Care Plus NJ,” which provides mental health treatment for adults and children, ranging from acute care and crisis intervention to group therapy and counseling.

Located at a onetime parochial school on the grounds of the Roman Catholic Church of the Nativity in Midland Park, the facility eventually will be able to accommodate up to 45 students in eight classrooms. The students and teachers have a 3-to-1 ratio, and the staff also includes a music therapist, two school social workers and a full-time nurse. A child psychiatrist visits regularly.

Students meet with social workers on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and as needed. The day starts with a “mindful morning” exercise to center the students and help them make the transition from home and bus to school.

A 17-year-old student at Paradigm, Michelle Nizama of Hackensack, said she found the environment very supportive. “There’s not so much fear or anxiety.” When issues come up in the classroom, “you don’t feel so shy…you can express yourself,” she says.

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