Decatur Student Center
An innovative public-private partnership at the Decatur Student Center (DSC) is bringing together mental health professionals, a local university, community foundations, nonprofits, businesses, teachers, and parents to support the needs of students and their families. The DSC provides individual and small group counseling and classroom psychoeducation, as well as housing DHS’s food and clothing pantries and the school’s lost and found.
The idea for the DSC was born out of a grass-roots movement led by several astute teachers at Decatur High School who realized that there were many students who needed supports and interventions beyond the classroom. These concerns, coupled with the death of Joe Bodine, a student from DHS Class of 2015 who lost his battle with addiction in 2016, immediately gained the support of the Decatur Education Foundation. This led to the City Schools of Decatur creating the Student Success Coordinator position, held by Dianne Acuña Andree since 2017.
Mrs. Andree works with Student Success Counselor, Erica Craig, who is a licensed social worker and registered drama therapist, to sustain and expand the DSC offerings. Mrs. Andree and Ms. Craig are located in the back of room C207, which is a popular destination for students in need of a word of encouragement or guidance. The DSC is a calm, quiet space with comfortable couches, pillows, and blankets -- perfect for solitary thinking or group discussions. The DSC is a haven from the high-energy hallways and classrooms of Decatur High School; a place for students to de-stress, work through a problem, or grab a snack.
“Many of our students are working to overcome serious challenges – including those at home and with peers; they need tools and knowledge to navigate stress and anxiety and to make healthy choices,” Andree said. “We wanted this to be a place where students could share their fears and, through various pathways, receive the help they need to become healthy adults.”
Key to the DSC’s success has been the support of the Superintendent and Wilson Center staff, as well as from local school administrations and the partnerships. Ms. Andree has worked tirelessly to develop these connections, including one with Georgia State University. The contributions of six masters’ level community mental health interns in 2019 allowed the DSC to convene small groups serving 149 students – three times as many as in the 2017/2018 school year. Topics, selected by a student survey, included stress management, self-expression, executive functioning, financial literacy, and healthy relationships.
Another important contributor is the Pathways2Life Partnership, which provided substance-abuse prevention classes to 465 Renfroe students and 70 Decatur High School students. Such classes are a top priority. In a 2018 Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA) screening of 370 Decatur 10th and 11th grade students, nearly half of students surveyed reported using substances in the past 12 months, a very concerning statistic.
“We were glad to be able to begin prevention and intervention work across the middle and high school, which established the relationships necessary to have a safe atmosphere to discuss substance use, misuse and abuse,” noted Ms. Andree. “Most importantly, these services reduced suspensions for students and supported families at the middle and high school.”
Students reported a higher understanding of the risk of alcohol, e-cigarettes and marijuana use after Pathways classes. DHS students in particular showed high rates of increased awareness and concern about alcohol and drugs, with students surveyed demonstrating a significant (30%) improvement in the desire to abstain from abusing alcohol. Student evaluations were positive. “I liked how you shared real stories from people. It helped us understand that this stuff can actually happen. The consequences of abusing alcohol and drugs outweigh the benefits by a lot …. I think it was very important for people my age to learn about consequences for something before you make a decision, because one poor choice can alter your life completely … Taking drugs can flip your life completely. My actions have consequences.”
In 2020 the DSC will continue their important programs and partnerships and build new ones, including expanding services beyond the physical location at DHS to other CSD schools. “Many groups have been strongly engaged including the Decatur Parents Network, Decatur Prevention Initiative, and the Decatur Education Foundation; they see the need for the DSC and are enthusiastic about the progress being made to date,” Andree said. “We have a strong foundation now with existing partners and are very pleased by the commitment of additional partners including the United Way, Sane in the Membrane, the Pathways Transition Program, and Cornerstone Bank.”
In 2020 the DSC will enter a new phase, including constructing new group rooms and individual offices, an expanded student lounge, and a larger clothing closet and food pantry.
“We are very excited about what this group has been able to do in such a short period of time,” stated Andree. “We welcome anyone who is interested in supporting our students to join this diverse and dedicated team of partners.”
The Decatur Student Center accepts referrals from students, teachers, and members of the community. The link for referrals is available on their Instagram account @decaturstudentcenter, or by clicking on this link or accessing the QR code below.
For more information about the Center, visit https://www.csdecatur.net/decaturstudentcenter.