Improving students’ mental health and behavior through Multi-Tiered System of Supports

'We've seen kids and families get healthier, and it's incredibly rewarding,' said Shauna Bake, MTSS coordinator with Pershing County School District

Shauna Bake at Pershing County outdoor sign.

Improving students’ mental health and behavior through Multi-Tiered System of Supports

'We've seen kids and families get healthier, and it's incredibly rewarding,' said Shauna Bake, MTSS coordinator with Pershing County School District

Shauna Bake at Pershing County outdoor sign.

The Nevada Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) project within the Nevada Center of Excellence in Disabilities at the College of Education & Human Development aims to build a system that supports the needs of all students and prevents problems from arising. The outcomes of this framework are nothing short of remarkable. Schools that have embraced MTSS and implemented with fidelity report significant improvements in academic performance, reductions in discipline, enhanced student wellbeing and an overall increase in school enjoyment.

Since its inception, the project has been implemented in one third of Nevada’s schools, spanning ten high-needs school districts in the state. Overseeing the project is Ashley Greenwald, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA, director of Nevada Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Technical Assistance Center, and Kaci Fleetwood, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA, MTSS state coordinator.

"Schools struggle to address the many priorities within education and need a system to organize their practices and to ensure that the practices are effective for their students," Greenwald said. "As a result, MTSS creates the framework for student success by focusing on teaming, data-based decision-making, regular progress monitoring and creation of a hierarchy of supports. We're not telling schools what they must do. Instead, we're working with them to discover areas for improvement within their own schools and helping them to select and monitor the effectiveness of evidence-based strategies to successfully manage regularly identified needs of their students."

Community connection and impact

In the rural landscape of Pershing County, Nevada, the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) project has been creating a nurturing environment where students flourish.

"When we first started developing our system, we absolutely leaned on the expertise of the University of Nevada, Reno's team for training. We had the extreme pleasure of being coached by Kaci Fleetwood, Dr. Ashley Greenwald and Brooke Wagner. Their support was instrumental in our ability to implement MTSS effectively," said Shauna Bake, MTSS coordinator with Pershing County School District.

Bake's connection to Pershing County runs deep. "I grew up in Lovelock, and my kids are fourth-generation graduates of Pershing County High School. After graduating high school, I went to the University of Nevada, Reno, got my degree in education and eventually returned to Lovelock to be close to family. My husband is a special education teacher here, and I used to teach biology and PE, plus I was the volleyball coach and leadership advisor. We are involved in many roles typical of small-town life," Bake said.

(Shauna) Bake, her husband, parents and two children are all alumni of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Despite the initial skepticism and reservations about incorporating mental health initiatives into their MTSS framework, the Pershing County School District has made significant strides thanks to the coaching by the University's MTSS Team. "We had to do a lot of work around educating people, destigmatizing mental health, and showing that it's okay to ask for help. In 2015, we started with just 42 kids participating in depression screenings. By last November, that number had grown to 165, reflecting the trust and growth we've achieved," Bake said.

Comprehensive support system

The MTSS project incorporates a comprehensive approach, addressing various aspects of student life.

"Strong mental health and social and emotional skills are the foundation for academic learning and achievement," Greenwald said. "MTSS helps educators identify and meet the academic and behavioral needs of all students, focusing on equity and relationships."

Tier 1 support focuses on prevention by implementing high-quality instructional practices and positive behavior interventions, including establishing clear school-wide expectations and teaching positive behavior. At Tier 1, schools select additional practices based on the needs of their unique student body.

Tier 2 identifies students who may be considered at-risk and provides targeted support for those who need additional help with academics, behavioral, or social-emotional skills through small group interventions.

Tier 3 offers intensive, one-on-one interventions for students facing significant and/or pervasive challenges, including trauma and severe mental health concerns.

This year, 20% of the students in Pershing County receive services at the tier 2 or tier 3 level. The Pershing County School District has also introduced online therapeutic services to offer students and staff more privacy and flexibility in accessing mental health support.

A model for success

The MTSS program's success in Pershing County serves as a model across the state of Nevada. "We have saved lives," Bake emphasized, reflecting on the program's profound impact. "We've seen kids and families get healthier, and it's incredibly rewarding. Our staff's attitude has shifted significantly. They see the benefits of mental health support and are fully on board."

The Pershing County School District’s commitment to student wellbeing, supported by the expertise of the University's MTSS team, demonstrates that schools can create positive, thriving environments for all students with the right approach and resources.

“I'm proud of our district in leading the state in what this can look like. We've had people say, 'but you're tiny, and that's easier to do,' but it's all about scaling up. It can be done, and it should be done. It's really impactful,” Bake said.

“Pershing County has been a phenomenal implementation partner over the past nine years,” Fleetwood said. “Systems change takes a lot of time and concentrated effort. Pershing County has put in both, without ever losing focus on prioritizing mental health and systems development. They have come so far since the onset of our collaboration, and I know they are going to continue to strengthen their systems, practices and outcomes. I’m excited to see what Pershing County will demonstrate as they continue to innovate as an exemplary implementer of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support.”

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