Penn Hills School District introduces new counseling alternative to discipline

·2 min read

Penn Hills School District is moving in a different direction, beginning with the expansion of their New Direction Program, a program school officials said will benefit students who need a little extra support.

“The New Direction Program is an alternative to the suspension program,” said Thomas Kilcrease, the counselor for the program.

Kilcrease said the district’s old disciplinary model levied punishments for bad behavior, such as suspensions or alternative school, but that has changed.

While traditional punishments like in-school and out-of-school suspensions, and even alternative schools will be used for certain offenses, teachers can now refer students to the New Direction Program.

The new program encourages students to talk about their problems as counselors work to address those needs. “Our program emphasizes meeting the needs of the students,” said Kilcrease.

What once began as a middle-school program four years ago has now expanded to include the district’s high school students, a group of students who Kilcrease said often need a little extra support. School counselors can now also connect students with medical resources through UPMC.

“If there’s a mental health need, students are referred to our Student Assistance program,” said Kilcrease.

But if students need food, clothing or a safe space, the district has that covered too.

“We have a room filled with everything from shoes to jackets, to jeans andsweatpants, and all these different types of things to where students can come and get what they need,” said Kilcrease.

Even if their need happens outside of school hours, the program has worked to fill those gaps with their Saturday programming, where community partners meet with students.

“The violence affects our kids,” said Kilcrease, who explained the uniqueness of the district as a suburban school that neighbors the city.

The New Directions Program is in its pilot year at the high school, but Kilcrease said if even a handful are impacted, it’s a start.

“A lot of students just need support, they need somebody to talk to, and they need somebody to listen to their stories,” said Kilcrease.

Over the summer, the district will work to identify where continued needs lie among students, and then develop programming to address those needs.

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