The Inspire Program at FHSD

Posted on 02/25/2020
Inspire logo


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 and emotional health of students. The Inspire Program is a District initiative intended 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 began their work serving FHSD’s early childhood and elementary schools in 2017, adhering to the
Missouri Model of Trauma-Informed Care (TLC) and putting an emphasis on safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, choice, and empowerment. The team has since expanded their work to the District’s middle schools and high schools.

FHSD’s Mental Health Coordinator, Cherie Magueja, has more than 17 years of experience as a licensed social worker and provides leadership to the Inspire team. “The goal is to build capacity in people and to meet the needs of students, staff, and families,” said Magueja. “We focus primarily on kids that really struggle with emotional regulation and mental health.”

Although some other states are piloting similar programs, there is nothing quite like Inspire in the metro 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,” said Magueja.

The Inspire team is currently comprised of three licensed mental health professionals, a teacher, and a paraprofessional, all of whom understand childhood trauma and bring that knowledge to this collaborative process. FHSD now has an Educational Support Counselor at every school. The Inspire consultants collaborate with these ESCs, support special education staff, administrators, and school counselors.

One goal is to assist in creating and implementing a Trauma-Informed Leadership Committee. “It looks at your whole (school) building,” Magueja said. The committee identifies students and staff that are struggling and provides strategies to respond and help The TLC will help not just teachers, but everyone in the building gain a better understanding of mental health and possible supports.

Delays in student growth are often caused by emotional distress, which can make it difficult for students to regulate those emotions by themselves. Kids can be impacted by the loss of a parent or family member, chronic illness, divorce, as well as other kinds of traumatic stress, such as substance abuse in the home and financial issues. “This doesn’t mean that they need special education,” shared Magueja. “It just means they need better support in their schools. That’s what Inspire is trying to do - to help build the capacity, so our buildings are better situated to assist students.”

Kids who struggle with mental health issues also often struggle with achievement. “Academic achievement is what we want for all our students,” said Magueja. “We have to support them emotionally, socially, and mentally, which is why we are a forerunner as a school district.” This encouragement transcends the classroom and becomes a life value. The Inspire Team educates teachers on how to help these kids since they don’t usually have an educational background in psychology or therapy. Most kids just need a caring and insightful adult who can help them manage their emotions and learn how to use new coping skills. “It’s a holistic way of looking at children, families, and school systems,” said Magueja. “We’re a district that’s invested in the whole child.”

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