Program helps with transition back to school for students with mental health issues

By Danielle Ray
November 10th, 2023

More than 250 schools in Massachusetts and largely across the East Coast have adopted the Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (bryt) model to help students return to school after prolonged absences because of mental health issues or medical injury or illness treatment.

The bryt community is comprised of about 153,000 students with programs offered at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Although each student’s objectives may vary, the goal is for all of them to return to their full academic schedule and complete the school year on track for graduation.

The Brookline Center for Community Mental Health created and continues to manage bryt, whose original program was established at Brookline High School in 2004. While each school using the bryt model (the new trademark for the program is all lowercase letters) may call the program by its own name, the model underlies the approach that is taken.

Among the other names are STAR, Transitions, CARES, Lighthouse, BEACON, PAWS, and STEPS, to name a few.

There are three building blocks of bryt – a dedicated space in each school that is open throughout the day to support students in the program, the rooms are fully staffed by a caring, skilled adult, and services that combine clinical support, academic support, family support, and care coordination.

According to information from The Brookline Center, one in every five U.S. adolescents has a serious mental health condition and 10 percent will experience extended absences from school.

While depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders, and concussions are some of the most frequent reasons why students enter bryt programs, schools may prioritize other kids in association with various situations where integrated academic, clinical, family, and care coordination supports are needed.

Most students participate in the program for six to 12 weeks, typically spending more hours in the bryt program room at first and then more in their regular classroom as they progress.

Average student attendance in school increases to and stays well above 80 percent once students enroll in the program. In the weeks before enrollment, the average is typically lower, approximately 55 to 60 percent.

Also, the program reportedly reduces the dropout rate for students with mental health issues from 50 percent to eight percent.

Wachusett Regional High School in Holden is one of the schools that utilizes bryt to help students and their families with the process of re-entry and reintegration into the school community by supporting their academic, social, and emotional functioning.

Director of School Counseling Kendra Cantrell has been the director of the Bridge program at WRHS since she arrived at the high school at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Cantrall said Bridge launched at the school in 2018 and that through it, students and families are offered the following services and supports:

• Direct clinical supports including planned clinical support, on-demand support, and crisis intervention, where needed.

• Academic coordination such as direct academic support and collaboration with teachers to complete outstanding assignments and demonstrate content mastery.

• Family engagement involving consistent and culturally-appropriate two-way communication with parents and guardians to support student progress and success.

• Care coordination, which is consultation and collaboration with all in-school supports and external collateral providers.

“The bryt program has been a critical component to supporting students as they return from challenging circumstances and acclimate back into our school community after time away,” Cantrell said. “We are thankful to have the district’s support for this impactful program, especially during COVID and post-COVID.”

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