The Neenah Joint School District continues to be at the forefront of mental health issues with numerous services for its students and families unique to districts across the state.
Neenah was one of the first Wisconsin school districts to hire a full-time mental health coordinator as Dr. Mike Altekruse is in his second year assisting students and staff members in all schools across the District. He and members of the counseling staff have been influential with Youth Mental Health First Aid training for 182 District staff members and 150 community members that was initiated through a federal project AWARE grant the District received from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Since 2009, the District has worked with United Way to provide a PATH (Providing Access to Healing) counselor at Neenah High School. The counselor is part of a collaboration between Family Services and the United Way to provide school-based mental health providers. Students are referred to the program by their guidance counselor. PATH counselors spend three days per week at Neenah High School and one day per week at Shattuck Middle School assisting students with such issues as depression, anxiety and attention deficit. Having the counselors at school breaks down transportation and financial barriers for students to get mental health assistance.
“Mental health issues have such a significant impact on our children and our community,” said superintendent Dr. Mary Pfeiffer. “Being able to provide the services we have available has been an area of focus for our District and will continue to be moving forward.”
REACH counseling also provides a counselor who works with students dealing with abuse and trauma. In addition, Neenah is one of a small number of school districts in the state where every staff member has undergone trauma informed care training. Staff members are taught to look for the signs of students who have dealt with extreme stress that overwhelms their ability to cope and then assist those students in finding proper treatment.
The District is expanding its mental health initiatives to the elementary level. Hoover and Taft Elementary Schools will each have a school-based mental health professional for one day per week as the District partners with a local community private practitioner. The District hopes to eventually expand the services to all schools. The services are being funded by a mental health fund begun by a local donor. Anyone interested in assisting with donations to the fund may contact Jon Joch in the business office at 920-751-6800 ext. 10105 or email@example.com.
“We are excited to expand our mental health programs into our elementary schools,” Dr. Pfeiffer added. “It’s a challenging time to be a youth with so many added pressures. Reaching some of our students early may help address some of the issues they face as they get older.”