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Duquesne City School District places a focus on mental and behavioral health

As the world changes and students’ needs continue to become clearer, the Duquesne City School District is always adapting.


While the district has long placed a focus on students’ mental and behavioral health, it’s become apparent in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that those needs have grown. As such, the school district has continued to hone its mental and behavioral health team.


Rachel Butler-Pardi, the school district’s Mental Health and Behavior Support Coordinator, heads those efforts, joining the district eight months ago after serving as the Norwin school district’s social worker for six years. She is supported by the school counselor, Monica Walker, the school psychologist, Brooke Watterson, the school social worker, Rachel Roberge, as well as the school nurse, two behavioral staff from Pressley Ridge and two full-time school-based therapists through Auberle. Altogether, it’s a robust and thoughtful team that seeks to meet all of the students’ needs.


“Mental health has been talked about more and more, especially over the last couple of years and since COVID. This is definitely something that we’re trying to highlight at Duquesne,” Butler-Pardi said. “This is a big part of our focus because we really recognize that all behavior is communication for us and it's our job to be working with our students to figure out what they’re trying to communicate and how we can support them.”


Walker has been the school counselor at Duquesne for 14 years, and said she appreciates the heightened mental health focus in the district. 


“It’s been a great collaborative effort,” Walker said. “It’s really great that we have a team approach because it would really be impossible for one person to meet all of those needs.” 


Butler-Pardi recognizes that having effective mental and behavioral health support in the district is especially important, given that the school acts as such a hub and focal point for the Duquesne City community. 


“I think mental health across the board really deserves us to shine a spotlight on it,” Butler-Pardi said. “Mental health should just be as important as our physical health and the things we do to support our physical health.”


What is also apparent is that proper mental clarity is important for students to be able to learn effectively. With proper support by the district’s mental and behavioral health team, Duquesne City students are able to flourish.


“No matter what issues our students are dealing with, if those feelings are clouding over what they’re trying to learn at school, it can impact their ability to be open to new information, it can impact their ability to be receptive to change and it can impact their ability to be able to focus and achieve the grades that they want to achieve,” Butler-Pardi said. “And of course one of the things we know about education is that everyday is a building block to the day that’s coming next.”


In that regard, the Duquesne City staff are not just reactive, but proactive in attending to their students. One way they’re able to do that is through Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Through PBIS, Duquesne City integrates its three school-wide expectations, which are to be safe, respectful and responsible. 


PBIS reinforces positive behavior, offering PBIS points for good deeds and behavior, like picking up trash off the ground. Those points are able to be used as currency in the form of Duke Bucks, which can be used in the school store.


“It’s a way for us to remember that we can continue to provide positive support and intervention for our students and it doesn’t have to be punitive and have consequences,” Butler-Pardi said.