KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Public Schools are finishing the first week of school with 100% virtual learning.
While keeping kids out of school buildings is supposed to protect kids and teachers from COVID-19, experts say it can contribute to a different set of dangers for mental health. That’s exactly why KCPS is accelerating a new program where students and families can access a therapist right in their homes.
Kansas City Parks & Rec is opening the doors of its community centers to become virtual learning sites. Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City and Camp Fire Heartland are giving students a safe place to do school in small groups, too.
But learning online definitely brings concerns.
“We rely on our teachers, our staff to really connect and build relationships with students, and being in a distance format sometimes that creates a challenge,” said Dr. Lateshia Woodley, KCPS student support services executive director.
That’s especially true in reading emotional and behavioral cues in kids. This spring, KCPS launched a pilot program to test virtual mental health services and saw incredible results.
“Families are willing to engage into therapy at a much higher rate when you’re able to do it in the convenience of your own home, not having to go into an office, take off work, all those different barriers that sometimes kept our families from being able to get the services necessary,” Woodley said.
During the pandemic, KCPS knew the need would be even bigger.
“Then compound this type of situation on small children, families that are already in need, experiencing a lot of food insecurities in some ways, excessive violence, also racism, systemic racism and other things that are pushing people to the brink, and that’s why I’m so grateful this opportunity is made available to the students here at Kansas City Public Schools,” said Dr. Shelley Cooper, Diversity Telehealth founder and CEO.
Diversity Telehealth is partnering with KCPS to connect district kids and families with free access to Thera-LINK, a telehealth program for mental health needs.
“Families feel safe. They feel they can open up to their providers, and there is a noticeable improvement in most cases with the behaviors and receptiveness among families,” Cooper said.
Improved behavior and learning skills to cope with all the challenges this year brings also help kids do better in school and gives parents tools to help their kids succeed.
“If the kids are not socially and emotionally well, they’re not going to be able to reach their full potential academically,” Woodley said.
The free telehealth virtual services are made possible thanks to COVID-19 response funding from the Jackson County Children’s Fund and a large federal grant awarded to KCPS last fall.