Baraboo School District receives over $70,000 for mental health services

BARABOO, Wis. (WMTV) -- The Baraboo School District has received a mental health services grant of over $70,000.00 to increase mental health resources for students, their families, as well as teachers in the district.

After the district applied but did not receive the DPI grant last year, the district applied again in the spring, receiving $70,743.00. District employees said mental health issues in students, as well as their willingness to discuss issues pertaining to mental health, are increasing.

"Our percentage of students that require additional interventions is significantly high, and I think it's not just our district," said Michele Yates-Wickus, Director of Student Services for the district.

The grant will be used to implement a mental health screening K-9, in the hopes of having early intervention with students to identify symptoms and provide them with resources, according to school social worker with the district Taylor Williams.

"We're looking at some social emotional learning curriculum and content to really focus on coping skills, resiliency, building up those positive strategies with our youth," Williams said.

She also said the district will be working with other agencies to increase mental health literacy, and to help families through the process of finding mental health resources.

"It's just having the ability to be able to help and support those students to build up their social and emotional well-being, and so they can attend school, and we have academic progress, and we don't have absenteeism," said Yates-Wickus.

Absenteeism has been an issue in the district in recent years, said Yates-Wickus and Williams.

"One of the most obvious data points for us was looking at our chronic absenteeism rates, which in the last four years, we've seen both district-wide and at the high school have doubled," Williams said. "And a lot of that is school refusal, we have students who are not wanting to come to school, and quite a bit of that tends to be mental health based."

Williams said students could be facing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or difficulty in forming relationships.

Both Yates-Wickus and Williams said they're grateful for the grant money and for what it will accomplish.

"I'm really grateful that the state of Wisconsin has really focused and worked on providing these grants to school districts, because it is really needed for districts," said Yates-Wickus.