This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Twenty-one District schools and one charter school will receive full-time social workers this fall in a pilot program that District officials hope to eventually extend to all city schools. The announcement of the program, called the STEP Project (Philadelphia Support Team for Education Partnership), was made Wednesday during a press conference at District headquarters.
“Sometimes you can’t educate a kid who is in crisis,” said District Superintendent William Hite in explaining the partnership between the District, the City of Philadelphia and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.
“If we go in before the fact, we can stave off some of the trauma that these children go through,” said Mayor Kenney. “We need to get to our children now.”
To help illustrate the point that social workers are needed in schools, Kenney relayed an anecdote about emergency workers entering a home where a grandmother lay on the floor and her grandson was sitting mute in front of a blank TV screen.
“What’s that kid going to be when he’s 17?”” the mayor asked.
The STEP Project – a $1.2 million initiative – will target schools that have high behavioral health needs. A smaller number of schools “with a higher readiness” will also get a school behavior consultant. According to a press release, later in the school year, a school behavior consultant will be added to the remaining schools and all schools will also get a case manager and a family peer specialist, “a specially trained caregiver with lived experience supporting students through behavioral health or social services issues that impact academic progress.”
Department of Behavioral Health Commissioner David Jones said the second phase will follow an evaluation later in the school year. In high schools, the behavioral support teams will focus on 9th graders.
The program will be supported by Community Behavioral Health and the West Philadelphia Promise Neighborhood Grant, led by Drexel University.
The positions will be filled with School District employees, each reporting to the school’s principal.
Here are the schools involved in the pilot program:
F.S. Edmonds Elementary
Frankford High School
Gideon Elementary School
Science Leadership Academy Middle School
South Philadelphia High School
Tilden Middle School
Martha Washington Elementary
West Philadelphia High
Belmont Charter School