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With mental health and wellness coming into even sharper focus in the post-pandemic era, some charter schools in Michigan are taking extra steps to help students, staff and families.
At the Arts and Technology Academy of Pontiac (ATAP), the school contracted with CNS Healthcare to establish a Community Behavioral Health Clinic right on the school’s campus, serving the entire school community. At State Street Academy in Bay City, meanwhile, the school hired a wellness coach to work with the staff and the results have been nothing short of amazing.
The guiding concept at both schools is that the mind can’t learn and the mind can’t teach unless the mind is healthy.
ATAP Superintendent Septembra Williams said the school “has understood the severity of mental health in our community and we have been intentional with providing services for not only our students, but for parents and staff.”
The situation really came to light during the pandemic,” she said. “We were remote for the entire 2020-2021 school year, and we noticed that it was starting to take a toll on the mental health of our school community. We noticed it with the students and it was even more prevalent with the staff. I was noticing a lot of depression, uncertainty and confusion.”
Septembra said they are reaching out to people in the community, to see what resources might be available, and a school community member connected them with CNS Healthcare, a certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic.
ATAP now has a contract, free of charge, with CNS Healthcare, right on campus. One of the CNS qualified representatives is housed on the school’s campus and offers services such as mental health evaluations and assessments, counseling, interventions, and extends these services outside to parents and staff. They also offer a range of additional services, such as psychological evaluations in the case of severe needs and can and have performed in-house therapy.
This has been essential to the overall well-being of our community and we have formed a lasting relationship with the organization,” Septembra said. “These services are paid through a grant and are 100% free of charge for our community. It’s made a huge difference in our school. It took some time to build trust among our parents, to convince them to allow their students to take advantage of these services, but we’ve noticed that they’re a lot more trusting with the process now.”
At State Street Academy, located in downtown Bay City, Superintendent Lisa Leimeister connected with Life Coach Katie Volk at a meeting of the Bay City Noon Optimist Club after hearing Katie speaking about a wellness routine workshop she was hosting.
She liked the idea of her teachers learning more about establishing routines to support their physical and mental well-being outside of school,” Katie said. “Mrs. Leimeister shared with me that in the past, she wished she could do something to truly support her teachers. There are many resources and programs available to support the students, but she felt a need to impactfully promote health and wellness among the teachers due to increased stress since the pandemic.”
Students from State Street Academy
That led to Katie being hired to work with the staff on a regular basis – and the results were immediate.
I found the teachers to be extremely receptive to the support I was offering, and I was able to offer guidance on a wide range of issues – overcoming stress/anxiety/overwhelm, working though limiting beliefs, prioritizing healthy habits and routines, accomplishing tasks and time management, relationships with family and friends, and dynamics of classroom management to name a few,” Katie said. “These sessions are continuing this year, and more teachers are scheduling sessions with me based on positive feedback they have heard from their colleagues.”
Lisa Leimeister said that having Katie as the school’s wellness coach has been a game-changer.
When she first came to our team, we felt drained and defenseless,” Lisa said. “When my staff walks into my office now, it is clearly evident they have all the social emotional tools they need to step out in faith, to trust their skills, to take risks. They are empowered! I love my staff and I will be forever grateful to Katie for providing them what they needed to achieve additional peace of mind in their lives.”
Lisa said it also points out the importance of looking out for the mental and emotional needs of your staff – not just your students.
We all know it is essential to take care of the SEL needs of our students,” Lisa said. “That is just one piece of the academic puzzle. If we truly want to make progress, we must also take care of the social/emotional needs of our team. It is an investment that will pay off for years to come.”