9 FAQ's for Administrators/ School Personnel
If you have thought about maintaining a group support program in your school for kids with divorced/deceased parents, or if a parent or staff member has proposed it, this discussion of the Banana Splits model is intended to help clarify the decision.
1. Isn't a support group too intrusive or too "therapeutic" for a mainstream academic school?
Two principles of Banana Splits address this issue: parents must give signed permission for elementary and middle school students to join, and no student attends except voluntarily. Thus only families and students who really want to participate will do so.
It is well established that these students are already at risk for academic and social/emotional problems. Addressing them forthrightly reduces their intrusion into the school day. The model does not force any students to participate in any fashion beyond their comfort level.
2. Why not send students to private counseling or outside support groups?
Afterschool groups must fit into students' crowded schedules. Single parents must find a way to get their children to the group. Many of these students are functioning well enough not to need individual counseling, and many gain more support from peers.
Meeting with other students and staff they already know creates a quick bond. The group also creates an ongoing connection with kids they will know for years to come.
3. I wouldn't want these kids to feel more different than they already do, or suggest that they should feel different if they don't.
Any student who feels sensitive about these matters will not opt to join. Parents with similar feelings will not give permission. Thus, only students who are comfortable being part of the group will be there. Sensitive students whose feelings change (as is often the case) can join at a later point, since the groups run every year.
4. Parents will be alarmed.
No child participates without signed parental permission. Part of the group process is teaching students about the importance of confidentiality.
5. Teachers might feel anxious or "out of the loop" about their students.
Students do not typically come back to class upset from Banana Splits meetings--just the opposite. Although it could happen, chances are such a student is already experiencing emotional difficulty at school, and such students can be referred for more intensive help rather than attend Banana Splits.
Teachers need not participate in any way unless they wish, and any parental questions to teachers can be forwarded to the group leader or other designated person. As this is a school program, not private therapy, teachers should rest assured that leaders will share pertinent information that could affect the student's school functioning.
6. Who is the appropriate staff to run the program?
In addition to school counselors and psychologists, many types of personnel have run successful Banana Splits groups: nurses, administrators, teachers. No one should be pressured to run such a group. It is best if non-mental health personnel can get some training or can consult with a mental health staff person.
An inexpensive one-day training is available in New York City through the New York State Association of Independent Schools: www.NYSAIS.org. There is also a good Banana Splits manual available through www.TeachInteract.com.
7. There is no space in the curriculum for another program!
Banana Splits groups typically meet during lunch or an electives period. Some groups meet before school. They do not take time away from academic programs.
8. I don't have funds for another program.
There is no licensing fee for this program, and outlay for materials is minimal. Many schools already have useful materials such as crafts supplies. Most other materials, once purchased, will be reusable, such as books, posters, games, or videos. These can be added gradually.
9. So what are the down sides?
Schools that have established Banana Splits groups have not reported a down side. Parents and teachers become enthusiastic supporters, and students are quite enthusiastic as well. Research on well-structured programs such as Banana Splits demonstrates increased student coping skills and increased communication between parents and children.