Students in the West Ottawa district will have access to 10 more mental wellness staff members, who were hired using funds from an Ottawa County enhancement millage. Courtesy West Ottawa Public Schools
West Ottawa Public Schools is amping up its mental health resources for students with a new wellness program.
Beginning this year, the school district has added nine full-time and one part-time staff focused on providing wraparound wellness services for students who need additional support, according to Todd Tulgetske, West Ottawa associate superintendent of instructional services.
The new staff will work with existing traditional social workers and counselors to focus more on the social and emotional needs of students in grades K-12.
Tulgetske referenced recent legislation passed in Oregon that allows students to take “mental health days” as they would take sick days. If West Ottawa students are having mental health issues, he said school leaders would prefer they are able to utilize resources at school.
“We want to be able to provide for those needs in school because we're never sure what type of support they're going to get at home,” Tulgetske said. “Some homes don't have the resources to get those kids the support they need.”
He said he believes adding the program will help the students address the issues keeping them from focusing academically, hopefully benefitting them in the long term as they enter college and the workforce.
“We have to meet those needs, and unfortunately, it's landed on schools to meet those needs more and more,” Tulgetske said.
The new staff members include: Sally Woods, Gabriel Brummel, Lauren Roberts, Elizabeth Vanderwege, Erica Dvorak, June Kuiper, Molly Khang, Danielle Barnes, Kristin Douma and Mike Irwin.
Two of these staff members will work at the high school as “wellness coaches,” leading programs such as group counseling and activities for students experiencing similar issues outside of school.
The program also will act as a way to connect families with other resources.
At the elementary level, students will be identified early by teachers through classroom intervention and in out-of-classroom counseling services. The workers also will train teachers to better identify signs of mental health issues in students.
As they get older, students will receive services primarily as they request. Tulgetske said the staff is taking steps to ensure students feel comfortable requesting services and will tailor that area as needed.
Tulgetske said the district was able to add the program because of support from the community and fiscal work by the district.
The district has reduced spending for nine years and “aggressively” paid debt.
The general fund dollars have been directed to classroom funding, while the 2014 and 2019 bonds have supported building renovations, technology upgrades necessary for student learning and transportation costs.
This allowed West Ottawa to use recent millage funds for something else.
“We would not have been able to do this without the recent Ottawa County enhancement millage that passed last November,” Tulgetske said.
Each public school was able to choose how the funds are allocated. West Ottawa chose to allocate 100% of those funds, estimated at a little over $1 million, to address mental wellness across the district, he said.
He said the millage was able to make up for a “lack of growth in funding” from the state.