Mental Health and North Dakota Schools

We want to believe our kids are living carefree lives, but being a kid can be hard, for even the youngest of children.
But schools in our region are working to change that.
Alysia Huck explains how….

Mental health problems among our children today are at a point of crisis in the nation, according to the American Psychological Association, and less than half of children with mental health problems get the treatment they need.
So what is being done to help our kids right here in North Dakota?

“It’s anything we can do to help those families in need is really where we’re at,” Jason Hornbacher, Dorothy Moses Elementary, Principal said.

Staff at Dorothy Moses School in Bismarck utilize a whole spectrum of tools to help students along the way, and Moses Elementary Principal Jason Hornbacher calls it a social-emotional learning curriculum.

“We teach them ability to cope with difficult situations, give them stategies, process, procedure,” said Hornbacher.

But some kids need more, and due to multiple barriers, accessing that extra help is not always easy, as Bismarck High School Assistant Principal Ryan Johnson has seen over the years.
So they sought out a solution.

“To eliminate those barriers, came up with a team to get those services embedded in their school day, increasing access, knocking down barriers some of those students and families had,” said Johnson.

Johnson is referring to a pilot program payed for by district funding and grants that brought mental health professionals into some of the Bismarck Public Schools.

Tim Gienger is the clinical director with West Central Human Services, and he says this was the next step for some of those kids who needed more than what most schools could provide.

“Mental health therapy type of things have been not always been part of the schools, so good news is we are starting to really focus on that as a community and country and looking at what we need beyond some of that,” Gienger said.

There are many new stressors kids face in this day and age, from social media, to drugs and alcohol, and much more.
It’s an issue schools across the state are starting to tackle.

Gienger says it not only helps the kids, but the families as a whole.

“It helps us target not only the really high needs kids, but those families that have real significant barriers into accessing services whether transportation, or overwhelmed because they’re at work, or what might be, it really brings us to them,” said Gienger.

Social worker Tracy Famias has seen it happen time and time again.
From transportation difficulties, to financial restraints and even finding a therapist. Famias says there are many good providers, but the wait time can be very difficult.

“We probably have a wait time of 2-3 months to see somebody and when you have a child who is struggling, that is a hard 2 months to wait to get some support. There is also a stigma about mental health and recieving support, so can be hard to walk into therapeutic setting, so being able to offer those supports right here at school we take away a lot of those barriers,” said Tracy Famias, Dorothy Moses Elementary, social worker.

And the biggest barrier of all…

“Time, being able to tell them you can get them in this week, big relief, almost feels as if you are giving them a gift,” Famias said.

 “Mom wants best for kids, 2-3, has two jobs to support and pay for food and housing, now little guy needs more attn, how does she get somewhere without jeopardizing employement or walking into office really uncomfortable opening up, we got this for you We can help you with this.. We have moms who surrender lunch to talk about kids, talk about a sacrifice, then get kids home, find someone to take care of them and go to next job,” said Hornbacher.

But some say that mental health needs to take a bigger spotlight – and not just at schools.

“This is a community issue. I don’t see this as just a school issue, or just a therapy issue, it’s a community issue, that if we pull together, there’s a whole lot we can do for all students,” Famias said.
“We ALL have mental health. Mental health if you refraim as a society, community, we all strive for mental health and each day we do something to improve wellness,” Hornbacher said.

I can personally attest to this battle.
Once we found services for my child, it took nearly three months to get an appointment on the books, and time slots were limited.
This meant more time away from work but more importantly more time out of school for my child.
I know and have spoken to parents across the region who have experienced scenerios just like mine.
So seeing programs like this will only benefit our children.

Other schools in the region are addressing mental health as well.
Minot Public Schools implemented a program similar to the pilot program at Bismarck Public Schools.
The Village, which is a family service center and the Souris Campus Alternative High School are working together.
Once a week, a mental health counselor will be in the school to work with students weekly.

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