Inspire Program Debuts in FHSD – and Inspires Success for All

Posted on 09/08/2017
Group Photo of the Inspire team members

Francis Howell School District prides itself on being innovative when it comes to advancements in education, as well as advancements in caring for the social emotional health of students. The Inspire Program is a FHSD-led initiative that hopes to help schools develop the capacity to meet the needs of all students, staff, and families, focusing on those experiencing significant challenges with emotional regulation and other mental health needs. This team of internal consultants has begun serving FHSD’s early childhood and elementary schools, adhering to the Missouri Model of Trauma-Informed Care and putting an emphasis on safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, choice, and empowerment.

FHSD’s Mental Health Coordinator, Cherie Magueja, has more than 17 years as a licensed social worker and provides leadership to the Inspire team. “The goal is to build capacity in people,” Magueja said, “to meet the needs of all their students, staff, and families. And we focus primarily on those kids that really struggle with emotional regulation and mental health.” It’s a process that is beginning right here in FHSD. Although some other states are piloting similar programs, there is nothing like Inspire in the area, making FHSD a leader among school districts. “I’m just proud that Francis Howell is willing to look at kids differently. That, in itself, is light years ahead.”

FHSD now has an emotional support counselor at every elementary school. The Inspire delegates will collaborate with these ESCs and support special education staff. In the old system, a specialist would come in and help the student with difficulties, and then head onto his or her next student … at a completely different school. “So what would happen is the kids would really like the (specialist), and then it was the loss of a relationship again. The majority of what our kids struggle with is loss – of parenting, or just people in their lives.” The old program wasn’t solving the loss problem, but Inspire does by adding continuity.

The first goal is to assist in creating and implementing a Trauma Informed Leadership Committee. “It looks at your whole (school) building,” Magueja said. “Who are the students that are struggling, and how do we prevent that.” The TILC will help not just teachers, but everyone in the building gain a better understanding of mental health.

One of FHSD’s finest teachers has joined Inspire to act as an instructional coach, and an instructional paraprofessional will assist with this, as well. Dr. Jerry Cox will be providing collaborative support for Inspire, and certainly has an excellent record of accomplishment – 32 years as a licensed psychologist, and 26 years consulting school districts in the Metro Area.

Delays in student growth are often caused by emotional distress, and students in distress aren’t always able to regulate those emotions by themselves. The loss of a parent, loss of a family member, or a difficult divorce are all issues that many kids go through. “That doesn’t mean that they need special education, it just means they need better support in their schools, and that’s what Inspire is trying to do, to help build the capacity, so our buildings are better situated to help those students.”

Kids who struggle with mental health issues also struggle with achievement. “Academic achievement is what we want for all our students,” Magueja said, “so we have to support them emotionally, socially, and mentally. That’s why we are a forerunner, as a school district, to support students in those ways.

“It transcends the classroom and becomes a life value,” Magueja said. “And we’re teaching teachers how to help these kids. None of our teachers went to school to become a psychologist or therapist, but what kids really need is one caring adult who can help them manage their emotions and learn how to have different skills. It’s a holistic way of looking at children and families and school systems. We’re a district who’s invested in the whole child.” 

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