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Change Inc.'s Impact in Schools: How Therapists and Navigators Collaborate for Student Success

 Dave Pearson and Beckie De Neui
Dave Pearson and Beckie De Neui

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, schools today face many challenges in meeting the diverse needs of their students. Change Inc. partners with many schools to provide school-based mental health and Crossroads in-school mentoring services. We see a unique service model when these services are offered together.One innovative school, Gateway to College, is making strides in addressing these challenges by hosting a Change Inc. therapist and an in-school mentor.

Gateway to College in St. Paul, a part of Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) and Saint Paul College, is a school that stands at the intersection of high school and college education. Unlike traditional schools, Gateway welcomes at-risk students who may have struggled in mainstream educational environments due to various roadblocks, such as facing social challenges or dropping out. These students apply to Gateway, where they take an Accuplacer test to determine their college readiness. Once admitted, they can complete their high school credits while simultaneously earning college credits by attending St. Paul college. This unique approach ensures that students can tailor their educational journey to meet their specific needs and aspirations. Students can remain with Gateway until they are ready to graduate, or until age 21, as they complete college credits. In any given year, 150-200 students are typically enrolled.

Beckie DeNeui (MA, LMFT), a Change Inc. school-based mental health therapist, plays a crucial role in supporting students at Gateway to College. She shared that her journey with Change Inc. began as an intern in 2014 at Guadalupe Alternative Programs (now GAP School), eventually leading to her role as a school-based mental health therapist at Gateway. Beckie's dedication to her work and her passion for helping adolescents find their sense of self-worth and belonging within the school community are evident in how she speaks.

Dave Pearson is a Community Cultural Specialist for Change Inc., better known as a Navigator at Gateway. He focuses on the academic aspects of students' lives. He mentors students to succeed academically, ensuring they attend school regularly, earn credits, and achieve their educational goals. Dave's approach to building trust with students is grounded in authenticity, allowing them to see that making mistakes is a part of growth. He believes in letting students see his imperfections. By being himself, he creates a safe space for students to open up and take risks.

Beckie and Dave, both Change Inc. employees located at Gateway to College, are a prime example of how Change Inc. supports students comprehensively. The two collaborate seamlessly, ensuring that students receive both emotional and academic support through relationships with trusted adults. Beckie shared how they hold regular meetings with social workers and counselors at school to identify students who may need extra assistance. While Dave focuses on academic success, Beckie addresses mental health needs. Their partnership is instrumental in helping students overcome challenges and thrive.

Beckie identified a common challenge among students at Gateway: a lack of connection and a sense of belonging. Many students who enroll in the school have experienced difficulties in mainstream schools and may question whether the system can work for them. This feeling of disconnection can manifest as various mental health issues, such as anxiety, avoidance, or a diminished sense of self-worth.

As for measuring progress, both Beckie and Dave evaluate through the lens of individual student growth. They understand that healing and development are not linear processes and that students may face setbacks along the way. Their emphasis is on whether the student feels therapy, and/or academic support, is making a positive impact. Feedback is crucial in this process, ensuring that the strategies used align with the student's needs and goals.

Dave shared that he regularly has connections with former students who graduated and pursued higher education or secured jobs.They keep in touch with him to share their successes because, without Dave, they might not have made it to where they are now, and they are grateful.Beckie emphasized that progress for her is the significance of witnessing students break patterns and discover their strengths. Seeing them grow in confidence and self-worth is a testament to the power of her support.

Change Inc. currently provides school-based mental health services in 35 schools and Crossroads in-school mentoring in 14 schools in the Twin Cities with seven offering the mental health/mentoring partnership. Change Inc.'s presence in schools like Gateway to College is making a profound difference in the lives of students. By providing holistic support that addresses both academic and mental health needs, they are helping students overcome challenges, gain confidence, and achieve their goals. The collaboration between therapists like Beckie and Navigators like Dave ensures that no student is left behind, and every opportunity for success is explored.

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