Frederick Schools Work to Expand Support for Students Coming Out of Mental Health Hospitalization

Frederick County Schools launched Next Steps during the 2022-23 school year. The school system hopes to expand the transition program in the future.

During the 2023-2023 school year, Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) launched a voluntary transition program it calls Next Steps to support better students experiencing mental health crises. Next Steps lasts between eight and 12 weeks and is designed for students coming out of a mental health-related hospitalization. The program is available for 6th through 12th graders to help ease them back into the school environment after they’re discharged from care.

Working through a more simplified, structured school day than traditional classrooms, the Next Steps model can help ease anxiety for students who struggle to return to school after a mental health crisis.

Participants in Next Steps attend class in a portable classroom outside of Frederick County’s Heather Ridge School, which serves middle and high school students “with behavioral or emotional challenges.” It was chosen because the school already serves students from around Frederick County, with an existing transportation service busing kids to the school.

Using a unique model

The Next Steps classes at Heather Ridge are capped at 12 students. Parts of each school day are dedicated to social-emotional learning, and the program provides individualized therapeutic support for each student. Additionally, Next Steps assigns academic work that keeps students on pace with peers at their home school so they stay caught up when they transfer back.

Middle and high school counselors at students’ home schools can recommend students to participate in the program. Families and mental health care providers can also recommend students.

Next Steps has a successful pilot year, but its future is uncertain

Starting in the Fall quarter of 2022, the first Next Steps program quickly filled up and remained full for the remainder of the school year as students cycled in and out. The program started with a goal of serving 25 students in its pilot year. It ended the school year serving more than 40.

FCPS started the program with federal COVID-19 pandemic relief funding, which will expire after the 2023-2024 school year. Staffing Next Steps- including a coordinator, two teachers, and two assistants — cost about $262,000 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding this school year.

The Frederick County School Board would need to add recurring funding for Next Steps into the fiscal 2025 budget for the program to continue.

Learn more about Next Steps.