El Camino Hospital's After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education (ASPIRE) program for local teenagers with significant mental health conditions has received a six-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the hospital announced Wednesday.
The new accreditation will allow teens who complete the Mountain View hospital's intensive outpatient program to receive academic credit for their work, which over the course of eight weeks involves learning about emotional regulation, distress tolerance and coping skills through dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and expressive arts, among other activities. The teens are required to be at the program four days a week after school.
ASPIRE participants are now eligible for up to five WASC-approved semester credit hours to be applied toward their high school graduation. Acceptance of credits toward graduation, as well as the number and type of credits granted, are determined by each individual school district and school.
ASPIRE has already given academic credit to students from the Mountain View-Los Altos and Fremont Union high school districts, but the WASC accreditation will allow them to offer it to other school districts, including Palo Alto Unified. WASC is one of six regional associations that accredit public and private schools, colleges and universities in the United States. Its accreditation for the Mountain View hospital program required a year-long intensive review process.
"Accreditation from WASC is affirmation of the strength of our ASPIRE program, which is designed to meet the desperate need in our community for services to address depression and anxiety in teens," Tomi Ryba, president and CEO of El Camino Hospital, said in a press release.
The ASPIRE program, created in 2010 in response to several teen suicides, provides critical outpatient care to teens ages 13 to 17 who are at risk of harming themselves. The hospital keeps the program cohorts small at about eight to 10 students, so there is often a long waiting list.
ASPIRE served 112 adolescents in 2014 and has served 409 adolescents since 2011, with the demand for services growing annually, according to the hospital.
Michael Fitzgerald, executive director of mental health for El Camino Hospital, said in an interview prior to the accreditation announcement that offering academic credit is not only a way to recognize the significant work these teenagers do, but to decrease mental-health stigma.
"It's still a validation of the work that they do and a different way of framing mental health treatment in terms of just, actually, it's an educational process," he said.