AP NEWS

Waupun schools’ mental health grant promises huge impact

August 8, 2018 GMT

WAUPUN — A grant of nearly $75,000 was recently awarded to the Waupun School District, and plans are already being made to use the funds for maximum impact throughout the district.

The district is one of 64 in the state to receive the Department of Public Instruction’s one-year Mental Health Grant. In Dodge County, Beaver Dam received a grant for $74,760 and Waupun received a grant for $74,200.

The grant was awarded, in part, on the recommendation of 10 individuals and organizations, including the city of Waupun.

The funds will help the district to expand its in-school programs to helpthe estimated students facing mental health issues. According to DPI, children struggle with the same mental health issues as adults, including depression, anxiety, self-harm and substance abuse.

“We are using it for continuing mental health services for youths in all our schools,” said Waupun Director of Student Services Wendi Dawson. “We’ll have providers such as Church Health Services coming into our schools to provide behavioral mental health and AODA (alcohol and other drug abuse) services to students, eliminating a barrier for those who would have to seek out those services outside the schools.”

That includes weekly help groups offered by the Beaver Dam-based Church Health Services.

“The hope with that is that we can keep kids in school who have substance abuse violations and can get them the counseling they need, instead of suspensions or expulsion,” said CHS Executive Director Thea O’Connor. “This is a way to keep them in school where we have an influence, because once they’re out of school, you have no influence whatsoever on what’s going in their lives. Right now, our staff is developing a curriculum for that so we have a 10- to 12-week course that is part of their school day. It will fit into their class block so they won’t miss any academic time.”

Additional providers include Dodge County Health and Human Services and Suasponte Center in Ripon (for those who have insurance coverage).

“Another huge component to our grant is building the capacity of our own school staff, so we’ve set up with CHS to present once-a-week sessions with our most volatile students who have had very significant childhood traumas — such as divorcing parents, parents in prison, parent who use drugs or abuse and neglect their children,” Dawson said.

Classroom teachers may initially see symptoms of stress and report to a guidance counselor, but if staff members don’t feel they can address some of these concerns, the school now has some resources that it might not previously have had.

“We can refer students on for more intensive services if those services are required,” Dawson said.

“We don’t see ourselves as coming into the schools as a separate entity,” O’Connor said. “A lot of these kids have issues that are not horrendous; they’re just time-consuming. And if a school counselor is spending all of his time with one child, he or she is not able to interact with all of the kids he or she is responsible for. In a situation like that, we’re just another tool and we can say, ‘We’ll take it from here.’”

Counselors may also suggest what to do when a troubled youth acts out.

“We’ll have a good support team around the child to help deal with the things he or she is facing,” O’Connor said.

“It’s a partnership,” Dawson said. “We’re working together toward the mutual goal of supporting our students.”

Working together will help the programs be sustainable after the one-year grant runs out.

“As staff becomes involved, we’ll be able to support more and more students,” Dawson said. “Collaborative groups, monthly professional development sessions with staff members by a licensed mental health provider and other efforts will help build empathy and understanding for what some of our kids are going through right now.

“Kids don’t come to school thinking ‘I’m really going to be bad today.’ Behaviors have a reason or a motivation behind them.”

The number of people needing help is partially connected to the number of people and families below the poverty line in Dodge County.

“We’re now considered a poverty county,” O’Connor said. “Over 50 percent of our population is living at the poverty level or below it. Research shows that long-term exposure to poverty causes trauma, and you have all these children are living in an incredibly stressful environment.”

Staff will be trained to notice something before it escalates, and learn how to de-escalate those situations if they arise.

Although Church Health Services is often free to those in need, the agency does recover costs from insurance providers (such as Medicare), and seeks out grants (such as the Mental Health Grant) to cover expenses.

“Bottom line is I have to pay my staff,” O’Connor said. “We’re nonprofit, so I can’t pay the market rate, but if I can find a source of funds, I make use of it. So if kids have state insurance (not commercial), I can bill them. With this grant, the money can’t be used for direct student services, but it can pay for staff time to create professional development, set up an AODA program and hold several community outreach events to help end the stigma of mental illness and suicide prevention.

“In order to make a big impact, we have to work together, and that’s what this grant is helping us to do.”

“We don’t see ourselves as coming into the schools as a separate entity. A lot of these kids have issues that are not horrendous; they’re just time-consuming. And if a school counselor is spending all of his time with one child, he/she is not able to interact with all of the kids he/she is responsible for. In a situation like that, we’re just another tool and we can say, ‘We’ll take it from here.’” Thea O’Connor,Church Health Services executive director