La Crosse School Board considers student mental health

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — “COVID has had a tremendous impact on mental health” on all levels of society, but the school district is been “super fortunate” in that it had received a $2.5 million, five-year grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to incorporate the Project AWARE mental health program before the pandemic began, said Curt Teff, the district’s community services director.

Project AWARE, whose acronym stands for “Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education,” helped the district’s school’s identify priorities for a year before the pandemic hit, Teff said.

He touted the project’s ability to instill in students the “social/emotional awareness as learning for life,” with its goals being to:

  • Increase the capacity for schools to respond to onsite mental health crises.
  • Increase youth and family voice and authentic engagement.
  • Improve cross-system collaboration to improve mental health supports.
  • Increase access to and engagement of mental health wellness treatment resources for children and youths.”

To accomplish that, it promotes “social-emotional learning through classroom-based instruction in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making and relationships.”

Student Services Director Aimee Zabrowski also outlined the district’s “Whole Child Framework” effort, told telling the board, “When we’re talking about mental health, we’re talking about the full range of wellness.”

Social And Emotional Learning

Elementary schools have a full-time person filling a dual role of counselor and social worker, she said.

In September, the district entered an initiative with the county Human Services Department to add two social workers and hopes to add more, Zabrowski said.

It also has begun a peer parent support program in which parents who have navigated troubling mental health issues can help others who are encountering difficulties, she said.

Teff also noted the district’s new partnership with Gundersen Health System to provide short-term early intervention in which students are able to receive five free sessions with mental health professionals. The partnership provides a full-time provider for elementary schools and a full-time provider for secondary schools.

It also has enlisted the services of 55 mental health providers in the city to interview.
Students who reach a point where they realize they have a need, Teff said, “We want to make sure we can provide” assistance.

The district also is ensuring that every staff member, including teachers, food service workers, janitorial workers, etc., has an awareness of mental health issues so that, if they sense a student is troubled, they can steer them toward help, Zabrowski said.

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