What is the Student Assistance Program (SAP)?
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Student Assistance Program (SAP), which is administered by the PA Department of Education’s Division of School Options and Safety in partnership with the PA Department of Health’s Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Programs, and the PA Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, is designed to assist school personnel in identifying issues including alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, and mental health issues which pose a barrier to a student’s success. The primary goal of the Student Assistance Program (SAP) is to help students overcome these barriers in order that they may achieve, remain in school, and advance. While Student Assistance Programs exist in other areas of the country, the structure and operation of the program in Pennsylvania is a unique expression of an integrated model serving the needs of Pennsylvania families and their students.
SAP is a systemic process using techniques to mobilize school resources to remove barriers to learning. The core of the program is a professionally trained team, including school staff and liaisons from community alcohol and drug and mental health agencies. SAP team members are trained to identify problems, determine whether or not the presenting problem lies within the responsibility of the school and to make recommendations to assist the student and the parent. When the problem lies beyond the scope of the school, the SAP team will assist the parent and student so they may access services within the community. The student assistance team members do not diagnose, treat or refer to treatment; but they may refer for a screening or an assessment for treatment.
There are four phases to the student assistance process:
Referral - Anyone can refer a student to SAP when they are concerned about someone’s behavior -- any school staff, a student’s friend, a family member or community member. The students themselves can even go directly to the SAP team to ask for help. The SAP team contacts the parent for permission to proceed with the SAP process.
Team Planning – The SAP team gathers objective information about the student’s performance in school from all school personnel who have contact with the student. Information is also collected from the parent. The team meets with the parent to discuss the data collected and also meets with the student. Together, a plan is developed that includes strategies for removing the learning barriers and promoting the student’s academic and personal success to include in-school and/or community-based services and activities.
Intervention and Recommendations – The plan is put into action. The team assists in linking the student to in-school and/or community-based services and activities. The team might recommend a drug and alcohol or mental health assessment.
Support and Follow-Up – The SAP team continues to work with and support the student and their family. Follow-up includes monitoring, mentoring, and motivating for academic success.
It is the parent’s right to be involved in the process and to have full access to all school records under the applicable state and federal laws and regulations. Involvement of parents in all phases of the student assistance program underscores the parents’ role and responsibility in the decision–making process affecting their children’s education and is key to the successful resolution of problems.
The student assistance process is based upon state guidelines, professional standards and policies, and procedures adopted by the local school board of directors. Professional training for team members in all phases of the student assistance process, which is consistent with state guidelines and conducted by a Commonwealth approved training provider, is required to ensure the appropriateness of the recommended services, effective interagency collaboration and compliance with state and federal laws protecting the privacy rights of parents and students.
The training of team members by a Commonwealth approved training provider, ensures the board of school directors, school administrators, parents, students, and the public that team members have received up-to- date professional training consistent with accountable standards and appropriate procedures. Guidelines for the Commonwealth Student Assistance Program training system contain training standards and competencies for SAP team professionals.
For those students receiving treatment through a community agency, the student assistance team, in collaboration with parents and the agency, can assist in helping plan in-school support services during and after treatment. The team’s effectiveness in helping the student and the parent remove the barriers to learning and improve student performance depends on the training of the individual team members, maintenance of the student assistance process, level of administrative commitment and board support, active parent and student involvement and the available resources both in school and the community.