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Emerging Practices with Promise

Submitted By: Emma Blackthorne, North Central Adult Education Consortium

County office of education bridges gap to serve students with mental illness

The Challenge

County mental health services serve adults who experience serious or ongoing mental problems. In an educational setting, these individuals may face academic struggles and a variety of other challenges, including time and stress management, communication, self-advocacy issues and feelings of low self-worth. However, education, support and training services can help them overcome these challenges and prepare them to contribute to their community.

Toward that end, Sutter County Mental Health Services (SCMHS), located within the North Central Adult Education Consortium, contracted with the its local K-12 adult education program to provide services to its clients. When the adult education program closed, due to funding, SCMHS no longer could offer the services, pushing the organization in the opposite direction of the Adult Education Block Grant goals to provide expanded and improved adult education services.

The Solution

To fill the void, Sutter County Mental Health Services partnered with the Sutter County Superintendent of Schools’ Adult Education program. The Superintendent of Schools provides an adult basic education (ABE)/adult secondary education (ASE)/English as a second language (ESL)/special education instructor, culinary instructor and a paraeducator who assist clients who want to participate in the program. Students are at different levels and have different abilities, so the curriculum is designed to meet individual student needs in the areas of basic skills, independent living and pre-vocational training. Both teachers team teach the skills needed to operate the student-run café, co-located at Mental Health, that provides opportunities for real-life work experience, combined with training in employability, academic skills (ASE/ABE/ESL) and individual living skills.

Teachers work with Yuba College, Tri-County Regional Occupational Program, STREAM and Sutter One-Stop to provide integrated industry-based and blended curricula (culinary arts, life skills and Odysseyware), work-based learning and internship opportunities. Mental Health, in partnership with Sutter County and the City of Yuba City, plan to remodel and expand the café to provide more opportunities for students.


The success stories illustrate the value of the partnership, which helps facilitate individual triumphs that may not otherwise have been possible. Seven adults earned their high school diplomas since the partnership launched in 2014-15, and 16 went on to secure jobs – outcomes that accomplish the dual goals of personal achievement for the students and statewide advancement in workforce development. The partnership also empowered adults with mental disabilities in other ways: one student with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who initially was unable to read, became proficient in reading and acquired technical literacy, allowing him to navigate the internet. Anecdotal information from SCMHS staff indicate an increase in personal and coping skills, improved communication and self-confidence, and team work and ethics among the program participants.

The Data

As an emerging program, the evidence of performance is limited. However, the available data suggest that participation in the program can successfully prepare adults with serious or ongoing mental disabilities for employment and educational attainment. Gains may be expected to be incremental. Realistic and measurable program evaluation metrics will include basic skills progression, persistence in the program, attainment of skills, achievement of core competencies and employment.

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