Additional mental health services offered at MFL MarMac

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Additional mental health services will be available at MFL MarMac this school year, supplementing the work guidance counselors and other staff already do to support students and families.

Therapist Nikki Brevig, from the Riverview Center, offered some private counseling services at the district last year, and will now be available one day each week. Mental health specialist Samantha Baumgartner will have a full-time position with the district.

“Both positions will be guidance support personnel,” explained MFL MarMac Superintendent Dale Crozier. “The main focus is increasing the overall health and wellness of students.”

The positions, which will support all age levels, are funded by a contract for mental health services from Juvenile Court Services, a division of the Department of Human Services. Crozier said the district will receive $105,000 over the next two years through a grant.

Guidance support will focus on increasing academic proficiency, attendance and participation in activities, as well as building a connection to school and liking school. Personnel may regularly schedule programs in wellness, growth mindset strategies, social skills, anger management, study and organizational skills, or other classroom activities or curriculum areas assigned by the principals. They could help connect students to community resources and programs to increase employment skills and employability.

“This is not a reaction to anything,” Crozier noted, but an initiative staff members began pursuing last fall by attending meetings and forging connections with organizations like Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health and HAWC (Howard, Allamakee, Winneshiek and Clayton) Partnerships for Children. Both HAWC and Juvenile Court Services showed interested in the initiative, said Crozier, and helped make funding possible.

High school guidance counselor Bernice Fischels, along with high school paraprofessional Brandi Crozier, spearheaded the effort to bring in additional mental health services. Fischels works at the district three days per week, with that time largely devoted to career counseling, scheduling and handling student participation in NICC college courses. 

“I do some counseling, where kids come in with relationship or family issues,” Fischels said. “I think about what’s needed and how I can refer them out.”

However, she said that time is often limited, and interruptions are frequent. She’s excited students will now have more of a therapy option to go with support already offered by not just the guidance counselors (Fischels, middle school counselor Marnie Carlson and elementary counselor Kurt Gaylor), but also student advocate Jackie McGeough, a psychologist through Keystone AEA and other school staff.

“We work well together,” Fischels said, “and this will be another addition to the team.”

Fischels said there’s a clear link between mental health and success at school, in the workplace and in everyday life.

All students, she explained, have a hierarchy of needs—things like food and shelter and support from family.

“If those are not met, if they don’t have a good home life,” Fischels shared, “it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.”

She said these guidance support personnel can spend time with students, alleviate some of that stress and help them solve those issues.

“That will increase school attendance and increase academic success,” she said.

Having mental health support at school will also be more convenient and affordable for students.

“I’ve been finding families are stressed with the lack of time,” Fischels remarked. Parents work and have other children, and sometimes they’re unable to transport students to therapy sessions. Therapy is not always financially possible, either.

“Once you make a connection, there can be a long wait list and a lot of phone tag,” said Fischels. “To have [those options] here will be amazing. It will eliminate those issues like money and transportation.”

“With school safety issues and mental health, it’s extremely important to have as much support for students as we can get,” Crozier added. “It’s a big win for us.”

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