What is the Early Alert Program?
The early alert system is a service at Penn State New Kensington that provides employees an opportunity to share a concern about a student’s academic progress, wellness or safety. The main purpose of the program is to be proactive in assisting students of concern and intervening early with students who appear to be having academic or health/safety issues.
Why is this Important?
Given the tragic incident on the campus of Virginia Tech and the recognition by the campus community for the need to reach out to students in need, it was apparent that a system was needed to assist students and help the college avoid liability issues. In the light of recent court rulings, and the finding from the Virginia Tech tragedy, the University has a responsibility to establish avenues to identify and report signs of high risk students. In August of 2008, a panel reviewing the incident recommended that colleges do more to share information about troubled students. Penn State also formed a review team to study current protocols for students in crisis and recommended each campus form a crisis intervention team and develop systems to address students in need.
What are the Program’s Goals?
Early identification of students who are at risk in one of the following areas:
- Academic progress that is unresolved with faculty intervention; students not responding t o faculty attempts related to class attendance, course performance, etc.
- Personal health or wellness; students who continue to exhibit symptoms of impaired health, even after appropriate referral to health provider.
- Students exhibiting behaviors or expressing comments which have the potential to impact the safety of self or others.
- Students exhibiting strange or bizarre behavioral patterns that have the potential for disruption to others and impaired performance; or extreme changes in behavioral patterns, i.e. hyperactivity or very rapid speech, depressed or lethargic mood, deterioration in hygiene, etc. For mental health emergencies related to imminent danger to self or others please call 911.
How Will This Work?
Penn State New Kensington employees will have the opportunity to identify and confidentially report concerns related to student behavior as it relates to academic progress, wellness or safety. A web-based form will be completed. A program coordinator will monitor the site daily and screen all entries for priority standing. Referral sources will automatically be notified when their web-based form is received. The Early-Alert Core Committee will meet as needed to review the information submitted and determine appropriate disposition. Referrals will be made to the appropriate academic, administrative or Student Affairs Department. The program coordinator will provide liaison and follow-up as required. The coordinator will also document disposition for each submitted form and maintain the records related to program utilization as well as providing overall reports to the campus intervention/retention team at least twice a semester. This early identification system is NOT meant to replace individual interventions by faculty and staff and should only be used if other direct methods have been tried and failed.
- Example one: If faculty notices that a student is exhibiting poor attendance or not doing well on exams, it is expected that they address this with the student directly. If this does not yield positive results or the situation becomes worse, the faculty member is encouraged to engage the Early- Alert System for assistance. Additionally, it is advised the faculty and staff inform the student that they are providing this information to the Early- Alert Committee and that someone from the committee may be contacting them.
- Example two: The faculty member notices that a student has become despondent in class. She looks sad, does not maintain eye contact and is not completing course tasks. The faculty member is encouraged to address these observations with the student and refer the student to the appropriate campus resource, i.e. counseling. At follow-up, the faculty member recognizes that the student did not pursue this and continues to exhibit the same behaviors. It is recommended that the faculty member engage the Early- Alert System, letting the student know that they are concerned and that hopefully someone else on campus might be able to help them.
- Example three: A staff member notices that a student she has gotten to know fairly well and normally says Hello to her each morning when she arrives for work is now regularly sleeping on the couch in the lobby, appears to have unwashed clothes and is generally unresponsive to her greetings. Other students have made the comment that this student lives in the apartments and stays out late and is regularly missing classes. The staff member’s attempts to engage the student have been unsuccessful. She informs her supervisor who encourages her to complete an early-alert form. She is also encouraged to let the student know that because she is concerned about her welfare and her academic progress she is sharing her concern with the committee and that someone will be contacting her.
Early-Alert Committee Composition
The early intervention committee will be comprised of the Director of Student Affairs, Director o Health Services, Director of Counseling Services, Coordinator of DUS advising, Registrar, Financial Aid Coordinator, Faculty Senate Administrative committee representatives or volunteers.
The Core Response Team, consisting of the Director of Student Affairs, campus nurse, and personal counselor will be responsible for:
- Immediate review of submitted forms
- Disposition of cases reviewed
- Documentation actions
- Appropriate delegation for follow-up based on the situation addressed
Details reviewed in the Early- Alert Committee will be kept confidential by all members. Information may be shared on a strictly “need to know” basis in order to refer the student to the correct campus resource or intervene as appropriate. FERPA allows for communication to be shared among “school officials” who have a legitimate educational interest. Under FERPA, there is clear exception for any risks to health or safety.