Franklin Regional officials praise expanded student-assistance program |

Franklin Regional officials praise expanded student-assistance program

Patrick Varine
Franklin Regional School District
Franklin Regional Support Services Director Jennifer DiFulvio talks to the Franklin Regional School Board on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.

Franklin Regional support services Director Jennifer DiFulvio began seeing what she called a “pretty significant need” in student referrals across the district’s buildings in 2015.

DiFulvio said counselors were “doing a large amount of work, meeting with students and connecting them with resources. We saw the need for some additional supports.”

Westmoreland County officials came along at the right time with an interest in piloting an enhanced student assistance program, or SAP, that didn’t exist elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

“The program provided us with a dedicated SAP liaison that we would not have to share,” DiFulvio said of the three pilot districts.

With school officials splitting the cost with the county starting in the 2016-17 school year, the pilot program created liaison positions through the nonprofit Westmoreland Casemanagement and Supports Inc., with all liaisons trained to the same level as those serving county residents.

“They have access to all the county’s resources, and they’re very knowledgeable in terms of crisis intervention,” DiFulvio said. “They’re able to help in areas that we as a district are not.”

The biggest positive in DiFulvio’s eyes is the effect an in-house SAP has had on getting families in the door.

“In the past, people had to go to Greensburg, meet with someone, get connected, and then go back home and have someone visit,” she said. “Now the family comes to the school, and that makes a huge difference. Families are comfortable with us.”

The district went from a screening model to a mental-health assessment model.

“This allows the liaison to spend a good amount of time with the student and family, really take in what their needs are and refer that family to all of the resources they might need, including case management itself,” DiFulvio said.

The SAP liaison also can connect families with a case manager directly before they leave the school.

“That removed a lot of barriers for our families,” DiFulvio said.

The SAP liaisons all are part of the Disaster Crisis Outreach and Referral Team.

“They can be deployed to a school district to help handle a larger incident like a student suicide or a violent incident,” DiFulvio said.

School board member Paul Scheinert praised the pilot, which has expanded county-wide.

“We’re seeing some really wonderful results with students who are doing much better with the supports that are being provided,” he said. “I think we’re learning that — unlike when we were young — these programs are making a difference and we probably needed them back then, too.”

For DiFulvio, who has an educational background in psychology, the enhanced SAP was an excellent blend of approaches to students’ physical and mental health.

“That’s why I was so eager to get on board,” she said. “It really bonded together all the things I do.”

Other districts seem eager as well: the program is now in its second year of expansion to all of the school districts in Westmoreland County, with only a handful of districts still sharing a liaison, according to SAP staff.

“We’ve closed a lot of the gaps in coordination with Westmoreland Casemanagement and the county,” DiFulvio said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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