ProjectHEAL Inc. is a Non Profit Organization founded in Chicago, Illinois with a Theory of Change centered upon educating Teachers and Students nation-wide on subjects of Trauma, Coping, Expressive Writing, Authorship and Entrepreneurship to increase the awareness of how Mental Health struggles may hinder healthy relationship building, learning experiences and student-brain development.
Across the United States, students who reside in low-income communities receive inadequate social-emotional and mental health services in comparison to peers in affluent communities.
For example, students in the Chicago Public School District—86 percent being eligible for free or reduced lunch—receive inadequate social–emotional and mental health services in comparison to their peers in North Shore suburban communities. Today, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) serves more than 381,349 students across 664 schools. All elementary schools receive one counselor despite enrollment, meaning schools serving up to 1,200 students still have just one counselor. The American School Counselor’s Association (ASCA) recommends one counselor for every 250 students. At the high school level, one counselor is assigned for every 360 students, about 1- ½ times the recommendation.
New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Illinois, a North Shore Suburb, provides a noteworthy comparative analysis. In Winnetka the average household income is $207,540 and, with a high school student population of 3,086, each counselor serves a caseload of 121 students. In the Chicago Public School District, each high school counselor attempts to serve a caseload of 360 students, a caseload 3 times larger than counselors at New Trier Township High School.
This comparative analysis underscores a pertinent and perpetual educational inequity, where Chicago Public School counselors are overburdened by massive caseloads –and adequate social services become a considerable luxury for low-income students—while north shore suburban students of New Trier Township High School benefit from counselors who have smaller caseloads and more time to provide students with an equitable experience. Chicago Public School students miss vital opportunities to relieve potential stress and anxiety through obtaining equitable social-emotional and mental health services necessary to reach high educational outcomes.
Therefore, ProjectHEAL has adopted noteworthy trauma-informed care practices to support teachers and students in meeting the need of low-income school districts that lack adequate social-emotional and mental health services for students. Furthermore, ProjectHEAL meets the tried and proven trauma-informed approach with innovation through its 5 month, student-centered, expressive writing fellowship where high school students: learn how trauma affects student learning, practice expressive writing as a coping mechanism, and develop entrepreneurial skills through self-publishing their personal narratives.
When social worker positions are cut children, schools and the community suffers. With social services losing funding and mental health facilities closing, schools have become the de facto mental health system for children. On average, only one quarter of children in need of mental health services receive them. For those that do receive services, 70-80% receive services in schools.
The need for additional social-emotional and mental health services, for students who reside in low-income communities, is greater than the number of services readily available. Nevertheless, ProjectHEAL seeks to increase educational equity by providing additional social-emotional and mental health services to support overburdened school counselors while supporting teachers and students who need it most.