SAUK COUNTY, Wis. (WMTV) – The Sauk Prairie School District is reimagining how it helps students deal with mental health crises, and the system could serve as a model for other school districts across the state.
A five-year, $4.66 million school mental health grant from the U.S. Department of Education allowed the district to form a new crisis support team with county partners.
If a student is in crisis, help is immediately available through a member of the crisis team, rather than the school’s counselor, social worker, or psychologist.
“One example is our partnership with Sauk Prairie Health Care. Right now, many families struggle to access child mental health services, with wait times that can be six to nine months long. . So we work with hospitals to hire clinical therapists,” explains Sauk Prairie School District Superintendent Jeff Wright.
Other partners working with the new team include Sauk County law enforcement, the court system and community agencies.
Wright said Sauk Prairie’s model is intended to serve as a pilot program, with the goal of implementing similar support teams in other Wisconsin school districts in the future.
Mindy Brunig, a counselor at Sauk Prairie Middle School for 21 years, said the additional resources will allow her to reach more children in the building.
“By building more crisis teams, we can do more prevention work, or focus more on children who are struggling but are not yet able to rise to the occasion. “You can put it at that level,” Bruenig said.
The funding will also allow the Sauk Prairie School District to conduct a new survey of all students in the district “using a data-driven, empirical survey called BASC3,” Brunig said. do.
She went on to say that the survey “helps us discover students who may not be vocal about it or who are struggling more than we realize.”
Her team began using BASC3 in middle schools last year and identified a quarter of middle school students as needing mental health support. This surprised Breunig, she said.
“We definitely need more help than we have been able to provide and have been able to provide,” Brunig said.
Karen Horn, a school-based mental health professional education consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said the data is important because identifying students who need help is a hurdle faced by many school districts in Wisconsin. will become important.
“It’s possible that there are students who are really struggling and we’re not identifying them. We may be misattributing behavioral problems to them instead of addressing their real needs. “It may be that there is,” Horn says.
Part of the problem, Horne says, is the continued shortage of school-based mental health professionals. She said recruiting and retaining counselors, psychologists and social workers has become difficult due to a lack of state funding for competitive salaries and professionals being overwhelmed and burnt out. It is explained that there is.
“I encourage school leaders to advocate on behalf of these positions. Often, the first thing you think about in a school is not the teacher position, but the teacher shortage. But it’s also important to have the right positions in place to address these mental health needs,” Horn says.
There is some hope on the horizon for Wisconsin, as DPI won a $10 million, five-year grant for school-based mental health professionals in the fall of 2020.
In 2020-2021, some of the funding went toward collaboration with University of Wisconsin programs to increase enrollment in these fields of study, Horn said. Horn said that resulted in 213 new students enrolling in the University of Wisconsin’s 10 programs for school-based mental health professionals. This helps attract more qualified applicants to open positions in the state.
“Through our School-Based Mental Health Professionals grant, we were able to hire 39 full-time school-based mental health professionals. So we’re excited about that,” Horn said. say.
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