NJ school districts, Barnabas Health help students at risk of behavioral health problems

    Several New Jersey school districts are teaming up with a health care provider to teach alternative life skills to at-risk youth.

    Project T.A.L.K teaches secondary school youth basic life skills such as decision making, problem solving, anger management, and communication.

    Every fourth- and fifth-grader in participating districts will receive some in-class instruction. Students who are identified as high risk for developing academic or behavior problems will receive more focused training outside the classroom.

    The program, run by Barnabas Health, is funded by the state Department of Human Services.

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    Project T.A.L.K will help the Bradley Beach School District identify kids who need help early on, before problems arise, said Michael Liebmann, who supervises curriculum and instruction for the district in Monmouth County.

    “There hasn’t been behaviors where students are misbehaving and now we are looking for a solution,” said Liebmann. “We’re at the point where we want to anticipate and prevent, and that’s really what it’s about. As educators, that’s really what we can do for our students.”

    Without funding from the Department of Health, many districts participating in the program wouldn’t have enough money to hire their own behavioral health specialist.

    Connie Greene, vice president of the Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention, said funding will be an issue if the program is to expand across the state.

    “Even if the outcomes are good and the programs are successful, school districts would have to have their own budget funding to implement these programs,” she said. “And in most cases, that’s not going to happen.”

    Nearly every town in the state showed a need for some type of school-based behavior prevention program, Greene said.  Currently only those school districts with a high rate of underage drinking and illegal drug use in their student populations were selected for Project T.A.L.K.

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