Assignment: Education - Student Assistance Program

Fighting Mental Illness in our Schools

ONALASKA, Wis. - The halls of most high schools are filled with students who are balancing classes with their personal lives while also planning for their future. It's the job of school counselors like Beth Gamoke to help students maintain the balance.

"So, we deal with all three of those aspects with all of our kids," said Gamoke. "The academic piece. It's a big part of our day with scheduling and keeping track of their credits and what not. To the career piece. What do you want to do post secondary? Military, work, some kind of schooling? And then the personal social piece. I'm having a bad day. Boyfriend/girlfriend issues."

But sometimes a student's personal issues need more attention than what a school counselor is trained to provide.

"We know where our training is kind of pushed to the limits because we're not trained as therapists," said Gamoke.


Now, with the help of the new Student Assistance Program at Onalaska High, school counselors can refer students to a professional therapist if they need additional help coping with personal problems.

"The program is modeled a lot after an employee assistance program where an employee can access some free services depending on what's going on in their personal life," said Gamoke. "And so it's very similar where a student can access up to five free sessions, and they're offered here at school. So, it's really breaking down barriers."

"There's always somebody here and available," said Ted Stein, president of Stein Counseling in Onalaska.

Stein has partnered with the Onalaska School District to provide a trained therapist at the high school once a week for three hours a day.  The partnership has improved access to this type of treatment for students who may not otherwise have the resources.

"Having somebody here where we've allocated hours specifically to that means that they're going to get seen much more quickly," said Stein. "And hopefully we can prevent some tragedies from happening."

So far, the program has been well received. Stein counseling has provided services to 10-12 students at the high school so far this year, and there is a waiting list for students to be seen.

"I think, for a lot of student,s having somebody else that really understands what they're going through is really key," said Gamoke.

"I do think this is really innovative and cutting edge," said Stein.

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