Mental Health Counseling for Students Supported by The Pokagon Fund

Mental Health Counseling for Students Supported by The Pokagon Fund

NEW BUFFALO, MI, December 10, 2019 - Mental health services for children and youth are at the forefront of concern for schools throughout the United States, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that one in five children and adolescents experience a mental health problem during their school years, often caused by issues such as stress, anxiety, bullying, family problems, depression, a learning disability, and alcohol and substance abuse. Serious mental health problems, including self-injurious behaviors and suicide, are on the rise, particularly among youth.

It is estimated that up to 60% of students do not receive the treatment they need due to stigma and lack of access to services. Of those who do get help, nearly two thirds do so only in school.

This fall, the River Valley School District and the New Buffalo Area Schools determined that the mental health of their students was a priority that required immediate action and sought funding from The Pokagon Fund to support in-school mental health counseling.

“Our District's biggest need is to have a therapist/counselor that our students and their families can get in to see quickly and frequently,” stated Will Kearney, the superintendent for the River Valley School District in support of the District’s grant application to The Pokagon Fund. “Currently, families that participate in counseling face up to a 6-month wait in getting an appointment, and there is no follow up,” reported Kearney.

At its November Board meeting, The Pokagon Fund Board of Directors awarded $42,500 to the River Valley School District that matched a grant from the State of Michigan to fund a family therapist/counselor for the 2020 calendar year. “This grant is intended to benefit all students who attend River Valley schools and their families,” commented Deborah Hall-Kayler, Vice-Chairperson of The Pokagon Fund. “Having a full-time therapist/counselor available in the school building will provide students and their families with immediate access to mental health services and will enable the therapist/counselor to maintain a direct and regular connection with parents so that the recommended strategies to help their children are implemented correctly and consistently,” stated Hall-Kayler.

Taking a different approach with a Pilot Program for the first six months of 2020, the New Buffalo Area Schools will be partnering with a non-profit counselling service, Center[ed] on Wellness, to provide mental health services to New Buffalo students in grades 6th-12th and their families.

A $15,000 grant approved by The Pokagon Fund at its December, 2019 Board of Directors meeting will pay for Center[ed] on Wellness therapists to be on-site to counsel students at New Buffalo Middle School and High School one day a week from January to June, 2020. In addition, New Buffalo Elementary third grade students will be receiving a mindfulness group curriculum from Center[ed] on Wellness therapists once per week for a total of six weeks during January and February, 2020. This mindfulness curriculum is designed to increase social emotional learning for third grade students.

“If this pilot is successful, we will seek to budget for its sustainability,” stated Jeff Leslie, Superintendent of the New Buffalo Area Schools. “We will also look at expanding the program to the elementary school so we can address the issues that our students face at an earlier age,” commented Leslie.

“The support provided by The Pokagon Fund to the River Valley and New Buffalo school districts is an important first step toward dealing with the need for student mental health counseling on a long term basis,” stated John Krsul, Interim Executive Director of The Pokagon Fund. “The benefits of such counseling to students can be life-changing,” Krsul noted. “Research reported by the National Association of School Psychologists demonstrates that students who receive social–emotional and mental health support achieve better academically. School climate, classroom behavior, on-task learning, and students’ sense of connectedness and well-being all improve as well.”