Understanding Middle School Student Needs to Support School Success

Middle school is an important period for adolescents’ social and emotional development, as well as their mental health and academic development. Researching these adolescent outcomes, as well as perceptions of the school climate (i.e., student and teacher relationships, support for cultural pluralism), is critical for middle schools to understand the needs of their students and implement effective new programs, services, and/or supports.

This presentation will detail the collaboration between Urbana Middle School (Urbana, IL) and the University of Illinois, including the project model, research design, and practitioner-researcher partnership. The presentation will highlight findings from the initial student needs assessment conducted in the spring of 2019, and include the research efforts underway for the 2019-2020 school year (e.g., including teacher/staff surveys). The presentation will stimulate discussion about how these data can used to support and advocate for the mental health and safety of students and teachers/staff.

Presenter Bios:

Jennea Bivens, PsyD, has over 15 years of experience in the field of Clinical Psychology and Program Development and Management.  Dr. Bivens obtained her B.A. in Psychology from Chicago State University.  She was proud to obtain her M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Roosevelt University where her mother, father, and sister all graduated. Her PsyD was obtained from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, majored in Clinical Psychology. Dr. Bivens spent her life’s work so far helping others help themselves as well as the next generations.  Throughout her career and personal life, Dr. Bivens has worked with vast populations including at-risk youth, children (early head start through high school), HIV positive children, professionals, parents, teachers, ex-offenders, and developmentally delayed children and adults. She loves to collect and share information to encourage individuals to move forward in their lives no matter what the circumstance. Dr. Bivens has developed an extensive work experience in various areas including psychological and neuropsychological testing, psychotherapy, and parent/ staff training on various mental health issues.  In addition she has worked with program development and implementation, school counseling, and functioned as part of the Multi-tiered System of Support to aid in the development of individual education plans in multiple school districts. Dr. Bivens is currently a Clinical Professional at Urbana Middle School where she provides mental health services and support in the school to students, family, and staff.  Her passion to support student mental health throughout the years has led to the development of community partnerships that fosters the opportunity to research student perceptions of their needs as it pertains to mental health, school climate, and safety in order to provide effective interventions and supports for school success.

Rachel Garthe, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the School of Social Work. Dr. Garthe researches the development and prevention of adolescent peer and dating violence. Through her research, she has forged partnerships with schools and community organizations to research the implementation and evaluation of youth violence prevention and positive youth development programs for middle school students.