Godwin Heights High School senior Cameron Gray overheard a classmate telling Kent School Services Network community coordinator Duane Bacchus that he needed new shoes. Cameron stepped up, offering a brand-new pair of Nikes he had at home.
That kind of compassion is what Bacchus sees all the time in his job. While Cameron’s gift came unexpectedly, Bacchus regularly links students with resources they need, from glasses to clothing to food and housing needs, even mental health services. He also acts as a sounding board for students who are stressed, depressed or struggling with a problem at school or home.
“This room is sacred,” he said, of his office located in the school’s media center. Students popped in and out on a recent Monday morning. One wanted a letter of recommendation. Many just wanted to talk.
“I have a very strong open-door policy. You are welcome anytime in this room,” Bacchus tells his students. “A lot of the time it will be just kids stopping in to say, ‘Mr. B, today is crazy.'”
But sometimes it’s more serious.
“At the high school level, you definitely have the behavioral and mental health component that’s way more prominent,” Bacchus said.
The high school in September implemented the KSSN model, which includes Bacchus and site clinician Rob Conrad, to serve as a school-community link. It is funded by way of a $250,000 three-year Steelcase Foundation grant. Specific points of focus are attendance, reducing discipline referrals and suspensions, Principal Chad Conklin said.
“One of the main impacts we’ve had so far is just the opportunity to refer students and their families to services,” Conklin said. “That’s a huge impact for our students.”
KSSN, a countywide program, brings social and medical services to students’ schools and homes. It is run through a partnership with local districts and Kent ISD. North Godwin Elementary is also a KSSN school, along with more than 30 others in Kent County.
Most resources come from local churches, organizations, clinics and businesses. It’s Bacchus’ job to connect students with resources, and Conrad, a licensed social worker, links them to health-care organizations, doctors and counselors.
Someone to Talk To
Though he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Inter-American University in Puerto Rico, Bacchus’ career took a turn toward education after he and his wife had triplets. He worked as an intervention specialist at the high school for three years before the KSSN role became available. “I already had many great relationships here,” he said. “I wanted to maintain those relationship with kids.”
Much of Bacchus’ time is spent just talking to students who open up about stress in academics and social life. He teaches coping skills and refers them to Conrad if they need outside evaluation.
“This is the most stressed-out demographic,” Bacchus said of teenagers. “There are so many pressures, and social media makes it 10 times worse. You have societal pressures. They are coming from low-income, poverty-stricken areas…They just don’t know how to cope with all these pressures.”
Senior Romeo Edelen said Bacchus “knows how to talk to kids… He make them feel comfortable. If they have a problem, he’s easy to come to.”
Added senior Carlos Martinez: “Students are always in here if they have an issue. I come in here when I get pissed off. He’s the teacher almost every student likes.”
If a student needs more, Bacchus refers them to Conrad.
“There’s a lot of anxiety and depression, stress over school and friends, and home life is tough,” Conrad said. “There are body image issues like anorexia and bulimia and self-harm.” After determining the level of care needed, Conrad refers them to counselors and other healthcare services.
Creating Lasting Links
A big mistake is to dismiss outside circumstances in students’ academics, Bacchus said. That’s why wrap-around services like KSSN are so important.
“I’m so passionate about the KSSN model,” Bacchus said. ” One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made our in education system over the years is to separate what happens in these four walls and cut it out of what happens in everything else. It’s so connected.
“I truly believe in the product. I truly believe in what we are trying to do here.”
Bacchus works to create resources unique to Godwin, tapping into community agencies and organizations. A native of the U.S. Virgin Islands who has also lived in Puerto Rico, he also helps the districts’ high number of Spanish-speaking students and their families with communication needs. He plans to add a room for parents who speak English as a second language to help them stay abreast of their children’s academics.
Being part of Godwin has revealed to Bacchus the amazing love and energy in the district, he said.
“The heart of these kids is just amazing,” Bacchus said. “These kids are constantly thinking about how they can help each other. They see themselves as a family in many ways.”