New program helps counsel the whole student

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 1/31/18

ORANGE PARK – Students at risk of dropping out have a new resource for times of need.

Motivational Coaches of America is a nationwide organization based in Tampa that places motivational coaches …

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New program helps counsel the whole student


ORANGE PARK – Students at risk of dropping out have a new resource for times of need.

Motivational Coaches of America is a nationwide organization based in Tampa that places motivational coaches in schools whose students are at risk of dropping out, or being Baker Acted, as a result of mental, behavioral and emotional health issues. On Wednesday, Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis announced the launch of a partnership with MCUSA to place motivational coaches in Clay County junior high schools.

The program will begin with coaches being placed at Wilkinson Junior High, Orange Park Junior High and Green Cove Springs Junior High.

MCUSA’s goal, according to its president, Julio Avael, is to assess the needs of an individual seeking help, set them up with a coach who will work to address those needs and in turn, prepare that student for a path to success in academics and behavior, that otherwise, might have never happened.

At a media event held in Orange Park Junior High on Jan. 31, Avael and Davis spoke about the challenges Florida faces, and more specifically Clay County, and how MCUSA is here to help.

According to a report released by Mental Health America, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing and promoting the overall health of all Americans, Florida currently ranks 41st in the nation for youth mental, behavioral and emotional health and 38th in access to appropriate care.

Clay County has one of the highest increases in rates – 38 percent – in the region for children who were Baker Acted within a five-year span, according to a report released last year from the Florida Department of Children and Families. Furthermore, 1 in 4 of those Baker Acted in Clay County was a child, which is one of the highest ratios nationwide.

“As superintendent, I can no longer continue to sit on the sidelines,” Davis said. “As we continue to focus on academics, instruction and performance outcomes, we now have to go deeper and focus on the behavior and mental health of our youth.

“We continue to focus on academics but we have to focus on developing the whole child, and eventually developing the whole family and as we do that, we will continue to make sure that every learner has every opportunity to be successful,” Davis said.

Alvael said MCUSA is looking forward to the results he and Davis believe the new program will produce in Clay County.

“We think this is a trailblazing opportunity for this school district and we are honored just to be a part of it,” Alvael said.

The program comes at no cost to the school district because of MCUSA’s private sponsors and donations, which provide funding for the program, according to Alvael.

Alvael said that in the last five years, not a single child in their care has been Baker Acted, which has led to a savings of $15 million as a result of the Baker Act reductions alone. The success of MCUSA comes from collaboration, according to Alvael.

“It’s a collaborative process that exists between the superintendent’s office, the cabinet, the district personnel, the principal and of course, faculty on staff,” Alvael said. “If the child is demonstrating specific criteria associated with admission into the program, we will sit with the child, identify to the child advantages of the program and speak with the family members about admission into the program.”

“From there, if the family and the child would like to receive these services, a form of consent is provided and from there, an assessment and diagnostic occurs,” Alvael continued. “We identify behavior we can improve and set up a goal plan.

Orange Park Junior High School Principal Al DeJesus, whose school has already had a motivational coach on campus full-time for a few months, can already see the effects of MCUSA on the students of the school.

“We’ve had this program for maybe a few months now and from our standpoint, and my principal standpoint, the attitude has changed and the behavior has changed,” DeJesus said. “I think that once kids know that there is an adult who is not going to throw any bias on them – they’re here to listen and give help on how to deal with certain situations. It opens up the doors so much more for these kids to feel more comfortable, especially at this age in their life.”

DeJesus said his goal I as principal is to make junior high a positive experience for students.

“MCUSA is another layer, another tier of support for our kids, to help make that happen,” DeJesus saidd.

David said the launch of MCUSA in Clay County schools is another step in his initiative to continue the growth of a more positive and safe learning environment for students, their parents and the staff of each school. He expects to have MCUSA coaches in every junior high by the 2018-19 school year, and is looking into ways MCUSA can help students in the educational years before and after junior high as well.


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