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Encouraging student success through mental health services

Rushford, MN (WXOW) – Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center strives to bring services to the various communities they serve, with a trendsetting program for area students bringing therapists into schools. 

In 2008, the Winona based mental health center’s School Link Program established mental health professionals in select schools in Western Minnesota.

Through the program, therapists work in 14 facilities across Winona, Waubesha, Houston, and Fillmore Counties.

Dan Pizzi always wanted to help people, specifically struggling students, whether it’s in the classroom or the hallways.

“Angry kids are very misunderstood,” Dan Pizzi, Skills Practitioner with Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center working in Rushford-Peterson Schools, describes.

“Usually there are underlying things and I want to help those kids out.”

Through his position as a Skills Practitioner, Pizzi teaches skills students don’t typically practice.

“That includes things like emotional regulation, coping skills, a lot of friendship skills, social skills. All sorts of different things like that,” Pizzi elaborates.

To make sure students find the additional assistance they need, therapists work with faculty members throughout their schools.

“They are our sources for identifying these students that might need a little extra help during the school day, or with a concern that they might have,” School-Linked Mental Health Coordinator Sally Poepping continues, “They are our eyes and our ears.”  

With faculty members using their regular interactions with students to identify the ones in need.

“I have the ability to see the need that these students may have,” Rushford-Peterson Social Worker Kelly Smith describes, “We know here that social and emotional learning is absolutely crucial, just as crucial as academic learning.”

Together they create a link between student and therapist to teach life skills they might not have many opportunities to practice in the classroom.

“Hearing bad news, how are you going to take that? If you hear some sort of problem occur what are you going to do?” Pizzi explains.

All while working to educate both students and teachers to create the best learning environment possible.

“Students that do receive services, we are seeing improvements in their attendance here at school,” Jenny Helgemoe, Rushford-Peterson School Counselor, elaborates.

“It can improve their academics too, grades may be improving. It kind of gives them that confidence.”

A majority of funding for the program comes from the School-Linked Mental Health Grant through Minnesota’s Department of Human Services.

The grant doesn’t pay for everything though. When state funding decreased in the past, all 14 schools contributed funds to continue programming.

Whether it’s specific items or monetary donations, Hiawatha Valley always accepts assistance. For more information visit their website to learn how you can help.

Peter Lenz

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