Carri Traczyk and the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser school board knew the district’s students needed help with mental health.
Like students across the country, some struggle with anxiety, depression, stress or unstable home environments. But what caught the attention of board President Traczyk and the rest of the board, she said, is some families’ lack of insurance and therefore inability to pay for therapy.
“Basically what we’re struggling with is poverty,” she said, “and the things that go along with that.”
To address those worries, the district brought in Courtney Hinnenkamp, a licensed mental health therapist whose job is to assess and treat kids at school — no insurance required. This school year was her first on the job.
Her position is a $50,000 cost to the district, Traczyk said. She said the role is vital to the well-being of the district’s students, 42 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch.
“Mental health is such a huge issue,” Traczyk said. “You just cannot believe what kids are struggling with right now. We have (Hinnenkamp’s position) in our budget, and if we didn’t, we would find it. It’s that important.”
Hinnenkamp said her job started with identifying students in need of her help. All elementary students were surveyed and subsequently referred to Hinnenkamp based on their answers.
Those questions ranged from “Do you feel safe at home?” to “Do you have thoughts about wanting to hurt yourself or other people?” Hinnenkamp said.
At the middle and high school level, she said, teachers and parents reached out to her with referrals based on student behavior at home and in the classroom. Hinnenkamp now works with roughly 45 students, she said, noting that she’d like to repeat the screening process again next year in case any students slipped through the cracks.
“I do believe we are (missing some students),” she said. “Those are the students who are internalizers and not willing to express that outwardly.”
Hinnenkamp works with her students on a weekly basis, she said, although some students need to see her twice a week.
Whereas school counselors mainly work in crisis management and brief self-harm assessments — an important job, Hinnenkamp said — Hinnenkamp’s ultimate goal is treatment.
“Therapy is treatment, so that way a person doesn’t have to feel depressed,” she said, “or they learn how to manage it so they don’t have to keep going back to that counselor.”
One of her long-term goals, she said, is to educate teachers and other students on mental health and how it influences behavior. She already works with her students’ teachers to make sure they’re getting what they need in the classroom, but she hopes to extend that education to all teachers, she said.
Hinnenkap said mental health isn’t only an important topic in Chetek-Weyerhaeuser schools, noting that other schools have reached out to her to ask how her position was created.
When asked if she knows of any other districts with her position, Hinnenkamp wasn’t sure whether any districts use the same insurance-free setup.
Board member Steve Goulette said word of the new position made its way to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who came to visit the program this spring. Goulette said Evers hadn’t heard of anything similar in larger cities such as Madison or Green Bay.
“I think every school should have a therapist,” Hinnenkamp said. “One of the huge pieces is that mental health needs are not being met outside of school.”
Contact: 715-830-5828, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter