Mental health program possible through $216,000 grants
By Scott Bellile
Hortonville Area School District will expand mental health assistance for K-12 students beginning this fall thanks to two grants totaling $216,000.
The district will implement a mental health screening program for all students in seventh through 12th grades that will be similar to the hearing and vision tests they already receive. Two outside counselors and a case manager will be brought on-site five days per week, and a parent contact will be designated to train parents on mental wellness.
HASD received two grants last month: $201,000 from Community Foundation of the Fox Cities and $15,000 from the Milwaukee-based Charles E. Kubly Foundation. Resources will be provided to HASD through a community partnership with United Way Fox Cities, Catalpa Health, Samaritan Counseling Center, NAMI Fox Valley and Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin.
Right now Hortonville has one mental health counselor in the district two days per week and “fragments of programs,” according to Director of Student Services Wendy Neyhard.
“You’re going to see a much more defined, concerted effort,” Neyhard said.
The effort comes after a recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated that mental wellness was a concern among Hortonville sophomores. Nationally mental health needs among children are increasing as programs see cuts.
District Administrator Heidi Schmidt said on-site counselors will relieve parents of driving their kids elsewhere for help and waiting for weeks or months for appointments to open up. Hortonville’s on-site help will take less time away from students’ classroom instruction and social interactions than off-site counselors and may even be able to observe students in the classroom and make recommendations to teachers.
“A key part of the program is having our teachers have access to the experts,” Schmidt said. “’How do I help this child here,’ versus a referral out to an organization that isn’t always possible. And sometimes you wait two months to get an appointment. Here we want immediate access so we can intervene as soon as possible.”
A Hortonville mother whose middle-school daughter experienced months of school anxiety expressed satisfaction with the district initiative. The Press Star is not naming the mother in order to protect her child’s identity.
The daughter missed weeks of school due to reluctance to attend and off-site counseling. A school counselor and trusted teachers accommodated the girl but the mother said she would have loved if the on-site program had been available.
“Everyone has stepped up and been really helpful, and it would have been nice as a parent to have somebody here to say ‘let’s do this’ rather than have to go for an intake specialist,” the mother said.
The community partnerships make Hortonville’s mental health program a “one-of-its-kind program” not duplicated anywhere else in Wisconsin, Neyhard said. Because school is a big part of a child’s life, it will be advantageous to bring his or her counseling to the same premises.
“If you’re struggling with any kind of mental health situation, be it depression or anxiety, it impacts you in terms of what you’re able to produce at school,” Neyhard said. “So it just makes sense to bring those things together.”