The Clayton Model program, WRI’s evaluation, and the Comprehensive School-Based Mental Health Services approach in NJ

Authors: Celine Thompson, Amanda Ekelburg, Madeliene Alger

There is increased focus nationally and in the state of New Jersey on approaches and initiatives that will address school-based mental health. Among these is the collaborative work of the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the Rutgers Center for Comprehensive School Mental Health. Their work includes the development of the New Jersey Comprehensive School-Based Mental Health Resource Guide for schools and districts. It incorporates the comprehensive school mental health systems (CSMHS) model developed by the National Center for School Mental Health, and for the last four years (and counting), WRI has been evaluating a program in South Jersey that maps onto the model. 

Comprehensive school mental health systems provide services that support positive school climate, social and emotional learning, and well-being for students (Hoover et al., 2019). The Clayton Model is a school-based shared-services program implemented by the Child Connection Center (CCC) that provides multi-tiered support services (MTSS) to students at several elementary school students in New Jersey. WRI is currently evaluating the impact of the Clayton Model on schools, students, and families. Based on WRI’s findings from the 2022-2023 school year’s analyses, it fulfills key CSMHS components. The program is currently funded through state-appropriated funds (P.L. 2021, c.85) for a five-year expansion of the program into elementary schools in Gloucester County. Clayton Model programming primarily focuses on providing students with supportive services and social and emotional learning (SEL), which is generally viewed as promoting positive mental health and academic outcomes for students (Hoover et al., 2019). 

For this research, WRI collected various information from and about students, teachers, caregivers, school administrators, and schools implementing the Clayton Model program during the 2022-2023 school year. The data collected were used to examine program implementation and impact on schools, students and families. WRI learned that there are several ways that the program and WRI’s evaluation of the pilot program contribute to implementation of a comprehensive school mental health system. Below, we reflect on WRI’s research findings and work with the CCC  within the context of each of the eight core features of comprehensive school mental health systems:

  1. Well-Trained Educators and Specialized Instructional Support Personnel –  The Clayton Model provides counseling and behavioral support personnel in the form of SEL Specialists. Herma Simmons Elementary is the model school for training and professional development for Clayton Model SEL Specialists— the school professionals who serve students at each pilot site. WRI found that SEL Specialists were noted by school stakeholders to provide innovative and creative solutions to challenges that arise with students. Furthermore, it was reported that SEL Specialists demonstrate their SEL knowledge and skills by tailoring their services to the needs of the students, teaching them self-management skills in ways that are age appropriate.
  1. Family-School-Community Collaboration and Teaming – SEL Specialists were reported to integrate and collaborate within school systems and processes, often working with teachers, school administrators, school counselors, and social workers in service of students. Teachers viewed SEL Specialists as partners in a team approach to supporting students and in building and maintaining strong relationships with members of the school community, such as caregivers, teachers and administrators. Lastly, SEL Specialists were reported to regularly share helpful information and resources with caregivers, teachers, school staff, and administrators and were effective communicators during meetings involving caregivers and school personnel.
  1. Needs Assessment and Resource Mapping – School stakeholders and SEL Specialists shared that the Clayton Model program was a much-needed asset at their schools. School administrators, teachers, and caregivers described how the SEL Specialists provided resources and expertise that they either did not have or did not have the capacity to provide to students. Additionally, CCC and SEL Specialists have been responsive to the needs of schools by shifting to provide more Tier 1 supports (i.e., universal or school-wide supports) in the form of classroom SEL lessons which allow them to reach more students. 
  1. Multi-Tiered System of Support – The Clayton Model uses a multi-tiered system of support model (MTSS) and provides services to pilot schools at all three tiers: Tier 1 (supports provided to all students), 2 (supports for smaller groups of at-risk students, about 10-15% of the student population) and 3 (targeted, individualized supports, serving 5-10% of the student population) (New Jersey Department of Education, 2022). School administrators shared with WRI that the Clayton Model program fits well within existing schoolwide MTSS and positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) systems, another widely implemented MTSS model, at their schools.  
  1. Mental Health Screening – The Clayton Model engages in “proactive strategies for better mental and emotional health,” (Child Connection Center, n.d.) including connecting and collaborating with school professionals to identify students who could benefit from additional supports. SEL Specialists were reported to be active participants during Child Study Team (CST), Intervention and Referral Services (I&RS), and Preschool Intervention and Referral Team (PIRT) meetings at pilot schools during which students were identified for Tier 2 and 3 services. By joining these established structures for identifying and evaluating students who may benefit from additional supports and services, SEL Specialists were able to encounter and serve students who may not have met the criteria for more specialized services, but could benefit from Clayton Model-provided social and emotional supports.
  1. Evidence-Based and Emerging Best Practices – As mentioned previously, the Clayton Model uses a MTSS model which “allows the installation of practices to support target populations” (Hoover et al., 2019, p. 25), meaning that it should be agile and responsive to the needs of students. WRI found evidence of the Clayton Model’s responsiveness to students’ needs. Furthermore, SEL Specialists were reported by stakeholders to understand the importance of addressing the role of trauma in behavior and the impact it has on learning. Additionally, teachers shared with WRI that they welcomed the trauma-informed SEL support and knowledge that SEL Specialists brought to their classrooms.
  1. Data – In its role as evaluator, WRI collaborates with the CCC to collect information and data that inform the annual evaluation of the Clayton Model. CCC tracks the number of students who receive tiered services at each school and collects data from and about students, caregivers, and teachers which WRI then uses in its evaluation. Additionally, WRI conducts surveys and interviews with teachers and other school staff and SEL Specialists in order to better examine the impact of the program on students and schools.
  1. Funding – The Clayton Model pilot expansion and the WRI evaluation are currently funded by State budget appropriation. Starting this year, participating school districts made contributions of 10% toward program implementation costs  that will likely increase in future years for program sustainability purposes.

WRI is currently in year three of a five year program evaluation, and we will continue to provide annual evaluations of the Clayton Model pilot expansion until 2026. Future analyses of the Clayton Model will consider the impact of the program longitudinally on students’ academic, emotional, and behavioral outcomes as well as on school climate, processes, and systems.

Related content

Clayton Model Year II Evaluation Findings



Hoover, S., Lever, N., Sachdev, N., Bravo, N., Schlitt, J., Acosta Price, O., Sheriff, L. & Cashman, J. (2019). Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health: Guidance From the Field. Baltimore, MD: National Center for School Mental Health. University of Maryland

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New Jersey Department of Education (2022). New Jersey Comprehensive School-Based Mental Health Resource Guide. Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Department of Education.