Pilot program provides free online mental health service to local schools
Wyoming Area School District is one of several districts in Pennsylvania testing a program aimed at making mental health services accessible to students at no cost.
Jon Pollard is superintendent of the Wyoming Area School District, one of several local districts that joined the Kooth US pilot program in November. He says it has allowed students to seek services at their own pace and comfort level.
“It gives the students an opportunity to get educated about where they can access services and who they can talk to about getting more services if they need it,” he said.
Wyoming Area was one of the first school districts to sign on to the pilot program after a bipartisan effort in the state General Assembly secured $3 million in the 2022-23 state budget to fund Kooth’s introduction in schools across the state.
Locally, the Scranton and Wyoming Valley West School Districts also joined the program.
Tim Barker, CEO of Kooth, says they hope to expand throughout the state and serve around 150,000 students within the next few months. The company has been operating in the United Kingdom for 20 years, and Pennsylvania is their first foray into the states.
“Our ambition here is to create, with Pennsylvania, a blueprint that we can then take into other states, because there is a nationwide need,” Barker said. “What a great place to start… to really show that innovation, then scale that out across the country.”
When a new user signs up for the Kooth platform, they take a 10 question assessment to determine their baseline mental state. Then, Barker says they are the “masters of their journey.” The platform offers a feed of articles and tips with access to professional support on demand.
Pollard sees the Kooth program as a way to ensure every student in the district has easy access to mental health services, regardless of their background or economic status. Even if a student doesn’t have a cell phone or home computer, they have a Chromebook provided by the school district.
“The vast majority of our students have access to the internet,” he said. “So, they have access now to at least some basic, minimal level mental health services.”
He hopes students feel more comfortable discussing their mental health as they use the Kooth program.
“The first step in solving any issue is to admit there’s an issue,” he said. “Whether it’s your shoe’s untied or you’re having … an episode of depression. You’ve got to admit there’s an issue, then you can fix it.”