The Laconia School District is in year three of Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) Program implementation. The SS/HS Program has five elements of focus:
1) Promoting early childhood social and emotional learning and development
2) Promoting mental, emotional, and behavioral health
3) Connecting families, schools, and communities
4) Preventing behavioral health problems, including substance use
5) Creating safe and violence-free schools
During year one of the SS/HS program, the District, in partnership with a core management team, conducted a needs assessment, environmental scan and gap analysis. That process revealed the need for expanded afterschool opportunities for students attending Laconia High School (LHS). Data suggests that children and youth living in Laconia are some of NH’s most vulnerable students, experiencing a high number of community and school risk factors that can adversely affect their school performance and social-emotional development. Community risk factors include poverty, homelessness, involvement with Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and the Juvenile Justice Serving (JJS) System, and transience. All five Laconia schools are high-poverty schools with more than 50% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Expanded afterschool opportunities provide a safe and violence-free place for students to be during the hours after school ends. Data shows that Laconia youth have an increased connection to activities that can lead to potential involvement with police and JJS. Ensuring that there are healthy and positive alternatives for our youth to engage in afterschool also prevents possible exposure to substance use. Lastly, our District provides dinner to students across all of our schools who participate in afterschool programming. Increasing the number of students involved in afterschool activities, especially students who do not participate in sports, increases the number of students who receive a healthy meal for dinner.
As a result, LHS has created seven new afterschool programs that are provided Monday through Friday each week. LHS’s new Health and Fitness Program offers Yoga, Jiu Jitsu, Zumba, Body Toning and Weight Training to staff and students alike. On average, there are twenty students who utilize the weight room during the afterschool hours. Without having someone to oversee this effort, students would not have access to this free facility.
LHS has also started two afterschool programs in support of issues impacting students who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ). The Gay, Straight Alliance (GSA) is run by LHS teacher Ivy Leavitt-Carlson. GSA is an afterschool club that brings together LGBTQ and straight students to support each other and provide a platform for activism to fight homophobia and transphobia.
The second LGBTQ afterschool program is called Sachem STRONG. This is a student-run club that brings together LGBTQ and straight students to support each other, provide a safe place to socialize, and create a platform for activism to fight homophobia and transphobia. Sachem STRONG is run by LHS Behavior Support Specialist, Mary Gibbs. Ms. Gibbs works very closely with students who struggle with mental, emotional, and behavioral health problems.
Both of these afterschool programs have 10 to 25 students who attend each week. Ms. Gibbs and Mrs. Leavitt-Carlson have both been trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and Diversity and Cultural Competence. These trainings have positively impacted their ability to support students who may be experiencing mental or behavioral health issues, including crises.
McKenzie Harrington-Bacote has a B.S. from James Madison University in Cultural Anthropology and a M.Ed. from Plymouth State University. Mrs. Harrington-Bacote is currently an Administrator in the Laconia School District overseeing the Safe Schools/Healthy Students, School Climate Transformation, and Project AWARE grants, all of which support the provision of mental health services in Laconia schools. Prior to her current position, she was an Education Consultant for the NH Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education, and was a member of the NH Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative Steering Committee.