minneapolispublicschoolsSchool Based Mental Health – Building Cultural Connections and Competence
Minneapolis Public Schools
Minneapolis, Minnesota

About our project:

School Based Mental Health-Building Cultural Connections and Competence supports and extends ongoing efforts in Minneapolis Public Schools to expand school-based mental health services. The City of Minneapolis has become a center of immigration and relocation. Immigrant and refugee students account for 24% of the District’s student population.
Minneapolis Public Schools, Hennepin County and community mental health providers have collaborated to bring mental health services to 7 schools. In this model, a coordinated continuum of services including crisis intervention, screening, assessment, treatment, consultation and training of school staff, and access to county funded support and treatment services are available to students and families in three schools: Anne Sullivan Communication School, Jefferson Community Elementary School and Anderson Elementary School. Proposed strategies to address barriers and gaps in mental health for the target population include: locating services at school and in the community to increase familiarity and access; working with community and religious leaders to build trust within the community and solicit feedback about helpful interventions; using narrative approaches and story telling to help students and families process significant life events that impact emotional wellness; and focusing on group activities that teach life skills, such as acculturation. For more information, view our poster.

Demographic data:


Our work:

The project has the following objectives: improve access to mental health services for all students and families in the three identified schools, expand the cultural competence of mental health clinicians and school staff, build family and community connections and interventions and capture lessons learned and disseminate knowledge and best practices at the local, state and national levels.

Our program work has included the translation of mental health resource material into Spanish and Somali and then printed for use at the school sites. The mental health providers are bilingual and/or bicultural at all three school sites. There is a Community Advisory Group made up of representatives of community based provider organizations and their role has been to both inform us on our adaptation of clinical interventions and engagement and outreach strategies to the Latino and Somali communities and guide the project. The program provides culturally specific mental health trainings (Latino and Somali) to school staff and community groups. Through collaboration with Ambit Network, a Category 3 site of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a select group school based clinicians from the program are being trained in Trauma-focused Parenting Coaching, an adaptation of “Parenting through Change”. This select group of clinicians will be conducting groups both in the school and community. The training involves on-going supervision during the groups. This program continues to pursue opportunities to share our lessons learned and provide technical assistance to other service providers working with these communities.

Over the past year, 30 students were assessed, and 111 students received direct clinical services in school. There were 125 outreach activities at school and community events as part of the program and 28 school and/or classroom based prevention activities.

Our Partners:

The Mental Health Collective
• African Aid
La Familia Guidance Center
Hennepin County Office of Multicultural Service
Hennepin County Children’s Mental Health
Minneapolis Public Schools
Ambit Network

What we are learning:

• A gap in the literature exists regarding evidenced based practices that work with immigrant and refugee populations. In our project, we are taking an evidenced based practice – “Parenting through Change” and through a partnership with Ambit Network, a research and training center at the University of Minnesota adapting the intervention for Latino and Somali families. For more information about Parenting Through Change on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidenced Based Programs and Practices, click here: http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/ViewIntervention.aspx?id=67

• For successful integration of mental health into the schools, it is critically important for the mental health providers to have dedicated time to integrate with school staff: teachers, administrators and student support staff. Using a program model that has mental health staff full time at the school site allows for these connections and collaborations to develop and strengthen. It also is important to align the work of the school mental health program and the school district at a systems level. For example, this year through cooperative efforts trauma was adopted as a training focus of the Minneapolis Public Schools Department of School Social Work and the department is receiving a year long training from Ambit Network including presentations, guided readings, and online training opportunities. Click here to see the outline of the training program.

• When working with immigrant and refugee students and families, it is vital to develop outreach strategies that are cultural appropriate and cultural informed. To achieve develop these outreach strategies, the project has consulted with members of the community, providers working with these communities and spiritual leaders. One common theme in these conversations has been the importance of deemphasizing the western idea and definition mental health and the need to talk about mental health from a functional perspective, which honors different cultural and religious understanding and beliefs.

Success Stories:

Too Afraid to Say “Help”

When Eduardo arrived in the 1st grade at Jefferson Elementary in Minneapolis, his teacher noticed he was shy…very shy. In fact, Eduardo didn’t speak at all for the first week. By the second and third weeks of school, Eduardo’s teacher had heard him mumble only a few words. Even at recess, Eduardo kept to himself, avoiding interaction with other children and refusing offers to be included in play…

For more information about this project, contact Mark Sander at mark.sander@mpls.k12.mn.us