New middle school program for mental wellness

New middle school program for mental wellness
Posted on 01/22/2019
At each middle school, a new staff member has joined the team of adults who are available to connect with and support students. Megan Foreman and Gwendolyn Huete, at Maple View and Summit Trail respectively, are the new mental health and wellness coordinators, funded through the King County’s Best Starts for Kids.

“We’re really looking at what is going on with the whole student,” Foreman explained, noting that she and Huete are already working on developing relationships with the student body at large and individually with students who are referred by other staff members.

“Wellness is our focus. It’s an extra service to help prepare them, giving them the tools they need before they get to ninth grade,” Huete added. What those tools are depends on the student. While one middle schooler might ask for help with tutoring to reduce stress caused by homework, another might need additional help defining goals and determining how certain choices could impact those goals.

Part of the program being grant funded is a mental health and wellness questionnaire that students complete. In this first year, student engagement with the screener is opt-in only, and parents are contacted and permission granted before Foreman or Huete meet one-on-one with students to administer. They then use the screener responses to help identify both strengths and areas where the student may be struggling. The Best Starts for Kids program offered a grant, which Tahoma received, for “Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral To” services -- also called “SBIRT” for short.

Tahoma’s SBIRT team also includes District Health and Fitness Content Specialist Tracy Krause and Teaching and Learning Executive Director Dawn Wakeley. Principals, counselors, and others have been part of the grant writing and design team. They’re being purposeful about slowly building the program in a way that will complement services Tahoma’s counselors already provide. For now, a handful of students have taken the screening. The intermediate goal of the program is to screen one class of students so that the data from the screening can be assessed and used to guide the eventual rollout of a screener used more broadly across a grade level.

“The questions from the SBIRT screening tool allows us to get helpful information about student needs, which will allow us to not only understand the student better, but provide better support,” said Maple View Middle School Counselor Betty Bernstein. “This process helps strengthen school partnerships with parents, students and community services to build a brighter future for our students.”

The work began more than a year ago, when Tahoma applied for and received the grant.

“I’ve seen the energy get better and better,” Krause said. “I think all of us feel like there’s a ton of potential for our district to be proactive, our community to be proactive and our kids to be proactive.”

Huete and Foreman use what is called “motivational interviewing,” helping each student recognize their talents, strengths, and stressors. Explaining SBIRT to parents in advance and building relationships with students are important components of the process. One of those reasons is that the “flags” that show up in a screening may not always reflect all the potential warning areas for a student. For example, some may feel comfortable sharing that they struggle with stress, but not about bullying that has occurred or substance abuse.

“I think our community is ready to go down this path with us,” Foreman said.

As part of their effort to build relationships with students, both Foreman and Huete also spend time with students during lunches, passing times and other parts of the day. Each middle school also now has a “wellness station” with brochures and other information about health and wellness for students and parents. And, their work isn’t being done in a vacuum -- they’re teaming up with counselors, health and fitness teachers, the district PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) team and the district MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports) team.

This system is being designed to identify students early (in middle school) who might need support and also to ensure that support doesn’t disappear when students leave eighth grade, but instead follows the students to the high school, Krause said.

“Our intention is to support kids all the way through school,” he explained.

Parents who are interested in hearing more or interested in requesting that their child take the screening may contact the counseling office at their child’s school.

As part of their effort to build relationships with families and familiarize students and parents with what the SBIRT program entails, Huete and Foreman will host a parent information night from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6, in the board room at the Central Services Center.

In order to continue this program, Tahoma will be required to continue applying for the SBIRT grant through Best Starts for Kids.

Meet Gwendolyn Huete and Megan Foreman
Huete was born and raised in Southern California. She graduated from UCLA with bachelor’s degree in sociology; and earned an MS degree in educational counseling from the University of La Verne. Huete worked in the Los Angeles Unified School district for more than 10 years as a teacher, coordinator and counselor; and now lives in Maple Valley. She is married and has two children and two dogs. Her hobbies include singing, meditation, yoga, and hiking.

Foreman grew up in Vancouver, Wash. She attended Washington State University, where she met her husband, who served in the Army. The couple moved frequently, and while living in Colorado, Foreman attended the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and earned her teaching certificate. Later, she added special education to her teaching certificate. Foreman taught special education math, taught in a a SAILS program and later worked as a behavior intervention specialist at a middle school. Foreman is certified in Mental Health First Aid, Crisis Prevention and De-escalation, Suicide Prevention, and has attended multiple trainings on designing interventions to support the whole child. She has two children and, in her free time, enjoys reading and attending local festivals or parks with her family.
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