Alternative schools focus on improving the learning experience for struggling students. Dr. Adam Jordan, assistant professor of education at the University of North Georgia (UNG), is working to improve the mental health of these environments through support systems for students as well as the professionals guiding them.
His research over the summer in this area was funded by a Presidential Summer Scholar Award of $10,000; the award and others like it come from an internal grants program initiated by UNG President Bonita Jacobs to support meaningful research and scholarly and creative activities.
"Alternative schools are an important part of a district's approach to combating dropout and supporting all students, but those schools receive limited attention from the research community," Jordan said. "There are thousands of public alternative schools across the country and some researchers suggest that upwards of 1 million students are served in these settings. As with any marginalized population, however, these settings are not without significant mental health concerns, particularly through the lens of the World Health Organization's (WHO) definition of mental health, which is, 'a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her potential.'"
His research involved an interdisciplinary exploration of student mental health promotion, and opportunities for teachers and nurses to improve mental health services in these settings. Three themes emerged from the study: caring as purpose, hope matters, and empowering citizens. Promoting these themes as well as addressing identified barriers will be at the forefront as Jordan works to "bridge the school-community gap," which is his next step.
"This research is important, and its layered approach shows great care. Far from simply researching student variables, Dr. Jordan also is examining teacher and staff variables," said Dr. Clay Rowell, associate professor and department head of clinic mental health counseling at UNG. "This provides a systems perspective on the educational environment itself. I also find this to be a wonderfully humanistic approach because the study is about the development of the people and not the learning or support resources themselves, and I believe it should provide a wealth of vital knowledge."
Jordan and Kasey Jordan, his co-author, wife and UNG nursing instructor, presented their preliminary findings of "Improving Mental Health Outcomes for Alternative School Students: An Education and Healthcare Collaboration" at the Georgia Association for Alternative Education conference on Oct. 13.
"A multitude of literature is available outlining the benefits of a mentally healthy organization," Jordan said. "Teachers and students in our public schools face incredible stress-producing pressure from many areas. Often, these pressures place the most stress on our most vulnerable populations and contribute to mental health concerns in the school setting. The work made possible through the UNG Summer Presidential Award is a first step in helping support teachers, students, and other professionals in Georgia alternative middle and high schools — some of our most high-risk public schools in the state."
Ultimately, Jordan's goal is to use the knowledge gained to help alternative schools develop organic, community-initiated systems of mental health support.
For more information on UNG Presidential Awards visit: http://ung.edu/academic-affairs/faculty-awards/presidential-awards.php.