2/3/2023 12:46:00 PM Mental health in schools not a new issue in North Branch
by DENISE MARTIN
Over the decades Minnesota public schools have evolved into providers of much more than just academics. Public health concerns have long been tackled partly in the school setting (remember those forearm puncture tests for TB?) Vision and hearing tests are done in connection with attending school. Education about transmittable disease takes place in classrooms. Nutrition needs are evident in the on-going free meals debate and school food service standards.
Last week, the Minnesota Legislature got a first look at how much will be needed as appropriations for the next two years of school-linked mental health grants. HF 564 finances rural and urban school district programs that qualify having contracts for professionals to offer students mental health services. The state school-linked mental health grants are applied for. In the North Branch Area Public Schools—mental health has not been relegated to the sidelines.
Therapists and specialists have been in the school buildings since 2013, when the district partnership with Therapuetic Service Agency (TSA), a Pine County-based non-profit, began. (www. hoperealized.com) TSA is headquartered in Sunrise River Elementary but there’s space inside each school for mental health consults, quiet rooms and conferencing with parents.
Jennifer Hesli, MA with TSA for 10 years, said sometimes agency staff connect with students from a teacher referral or sometimes a family member will reach out.
Sunrise River Elementary School Principal Taylor Swanson added that the mental health services program is experiencing growing needs, starting in first grade. The whole leadership team in the building works together, he continued, to understand the child’s situation and family needs in order to improve the students’ day-to-day experience.
Lainie Janke, TSA Executive Director remarked that North Branch district’s history “says it really values mental health.”
From the outset whether a child’s well being involves a death in the child’s world, or the family is homeless, the course is laid from there. If the answer is to connect the student with a therapist, which will include using third party payment. In the case of no insurance support, the state grant money can be applied. Or the answer to a student acting out or failing academically may be something material, like needing transportation, or lacking household goods.
The family may simply need to be made aware of social services through the county that can help.
Said Swanson, “...we work as a group but the family makes the choices.”
At the high school level involved students can enroll in a credit class, for 80 minutes with enrollment at 15 students, that is an elective pass/fail course. It’s filled-up usually and a fourth section was added this year. Parents are asked to grant permission.
The instructor Michele Anderson said the focus this first semester has been ninth graders but the second semester will include up through 11th graders.
They learn about motivation and goal setting and even do movement exercise— all designed to lessen social and emotional barriers and help the student find their strengths.
North Branch High School Principal Clint Link said 60 students are participating in TSA-supported services overall.
He declared, “To have this embedded, we are super lucky to have this.” School Board Chair Tim Macmillan said he’s been on the board since 2012 and all he’s ever observed is that district officials and policymakers “...want to see health, happy, well adjusted kids.”