By Mike Haluska
By Mike Haluska

Michael D. Haluska, Superintendent

Decorah Community School District

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the course of the next several months, Decorah Superintendent Mike Haluska will be writing in-depth analyses of the pertinent “needs” affecting the District – everything from facility issues, to bullying to the way math is taught. The Decorah Community School District recently completed a needs assessment survey that was conducted by the Iowa Association of School Boards. Haluska’s observations and opinions will be published exclusively in Decorah Newspapers.


 

     Bullying and harassment, there is hardly a week which goes by that a news report doesn’t include some type of outlandish behavior by one child, or a group of children, unleashed upon another child. Think earaches, sore throats or runny noses top the list of reasons children visit the nation’s 1,700 school-based health centers? Try depression, anxiety, and trauma.

Why is it we see so many mental health-related issues in our schools today? And, after all, haven’t depression, anxiety, and trauma existed before now? Sure they have. So have obsessive compulsive disorder, drug addiction, and personality disorders, not to mention extreme stress and dealing with conditions related to impulse control. Still, as I wrote, why so much today?

There has been an increased demand for school-based mental health services across all segments of the student population in the last decade. We shouldn’t be surprised.  This is due to both the increased mental health needs of students and their families and the improved understanding of the role mental health plays in children’s functioning. Schools generally mirror society and today an estimated 22 percent of  American adults are affected by mental health disorders annually. In a study done in 2010, Stagman and Cooper estimated that one in five children (20 percent) has a mental health problem and one-half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by the age of 14.

It’s certainly possible we see more mental health issues in school because school staff members are becoming far more aware as to how we spot students who may be suffering from mental health issues. Virtually all the staff of the Decorah Schools have received a short-course on “Mental Health First Aid,” and a sizable number have taken a longer, more advanced class.

I have spent time advocating for state funding for mental health assistance in schools for well over a decade. With this, I don’t mean the work done by our school counselors or the school social workers assigned to us by the AEA. Instead, I’m writing about those trained in mental health counseling who can provide services to all students with emphasis on those in crisis, not just those with disabilities. After all, as cited in the work by Stagman and Cooper I previously mentioned, children with mental health problems have lower educational achievement, greater involvement with the criminal justice system, and fewer stable and long-term placements in the child welfare system than their peers.

So, what exactly are the Decorah Schools doing to address the issues of bullying, harassment, and mental health issues? At the John Cline/Carrie Lee buildings, Counselor Lindy Borske-Hubbard teaches guidance classes to all grade levels, working on social and emotional skills. As needed, Lindy also works with students dealing with a crisis, such as death and divorce. 

The second graders have REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) worked into their curriculum. This helps them understand their thinking process and identify both helpful and unhelpful ways of thinking. Positive Behavior and Intervention Supports (PBIS) is a part of the elementary curriculum as well. This supports building a climate with common expectations, positive awards and community building. Imbedded in PBIS is our anti-bullying work focusing on monthly themes that promote such concepts as caring, kindness, good sportsmanship, and so on. If needed, a counselor from Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health works directly with students in the school setting.

At Decorah Middle School, our counselor provides professional development for the staff with topics like depression and suicide. Mental health topics are taught in both guidance and health classes, with outside agencies assisting with instruction.  

The foundation of our bullying prevention program aligns with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program and has been in place for several years now. Bullying and harassment definitions and ways to report are covered at all grade-level introduction class meetings. The Middle School offers four ways to report bullying, with all of them outlined in the Student Planner. What I feel is the most important option is the “Safe School Anonymous Reporting” form, which is exactly what it sounds like — students can report to Ms. Hoth or Mr. Stock anonymously if they feel harassment, abuse, or are feeling suicidal or know of someone who is. This has proven very helpful in providing support to students.

At Decorah High School, students impacted by mental health issues are supported in a variety of ways. Partnerships exist with both Winneshiek Medical Center and Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health. Dr. Bridgit Hensley works directly with the high school guidance counselor and high school principal on a monthly basis. Dr. Hensley also serves as a consultant in the areas of student needs and services, curriculum and program design and offerings.  

With NEIBH, Counselor Joelle Neilson meets on a weekly basis at the high school with students who receive services. Special classes to help students make the transition from middle school to high school are offered to students who face issues related to mental health.  

Pat Trewin, guidance counselor, works with the teacher of the class to assist students and/or facilitate learning activities as needed. Likewise, Mr. Trewin meets with students on a regular basis for individual counseling sessions. The number of sessions is determined by individual student need. Even class schedules are adjusted as needed to reduce anxiety. Students and parents can take an active role in the design of the student’s school day. The following options are available:   

• A blended schedule with a combination of on-line classes and classes in the traditional school setting.

• A specially designed schedule/school day to provide specific order of classes during the school day.

• A schedule that is exclusively made up of on-line courses is available.

• If needed, we can shorten the student’s school day.  Most often this occurs when the student’s Doctor/Therapist makes the recommendation and the student has a 504.


Students who have chronic mental health issues can be served by a 504 plan, allowing for accommodations in their classes or their school day.

In terms of bullying and harassment at the high school, principals, counselors and student support services personnel investigate all bullying referrals. Action is taken dependent upon the result of the investigation. Social media is responsible for the largest portion of bullying/harassment referrals. All freshman students attend a session “Pause Before You Post” in which students are reminded to carefully consider the content of social media posts, how to respond should they receive a hurtful/damaging post, and which individuals can assist them when problems and questions arise.   

Students in grades 10 – 12 are reminded of this information during their class meetings at the beginning of the school year. Follow-up information/reminders are shared periodically during the school year during homerooms. Bullying/harassment and the importance of treating others with dignity and respect are infused into classroom learning activities. This is also an important topic with students at the beginning of the school year in each of the class meetings and at 9th grade orientation.

I would be the first individual to say the Decorah Schools are by no means perfect when it comes to the topics of bullying, harassment, and student health. Yet, as is evidenced by this overview of efforts being made, it is a topic taken seriously by the District.  


ullying and harassment, there is hardly a week which goes by that a news report doesn’t include some type of outlandish behavior by one child, or a group of children, unleashed upon another child. Think earaches, sore throats or runny noses top the list of reasons children visit the nation’s 1,700 school-based health centers? Try depression, anxiety, and trauma.

Why is it we see so many mental health-related issues in our schools today? And, after all, haven’t depression, anxiety, and trauma existed before now? Sure they have. So have obsessive compulsive disorder, drug addiction, and personality disorders, not to mention extreme stress and dealing with conditions related to impulse control. Still, as I wrote, why so much today?

There has been an increased demand for school-based mental health services across all segments of the student population in the last decade. We shouldn’t be surprised.  This is due to both the increased mental health needs of students and their families and the improved understanding of the role mental health plays in children’s functioning. Schools generally mirror society and today an estimated 22 percent of  American adults are affected by mental health disorders annually. In a study done in 2010, Stagman and Cooper estimated that one in five children (20 percent) has a mental health problem and one-half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by the age of 14.

It’s certainly possible we see more mental health issues in school because school staff members are becoming far more aware as to how we spot students who may be suffering from mental health issues. Virtually all the staff of the Decorah Schools have received a short-course on “Mental Health First Aid,” and a sizable number have taken a longer, more advanced class.

I have spent time advocating for state funding for mental health assistance in schools for well over a decade. With this, I don’t mean the work done by our school counselors or the school social workers assigned to us by the AEA. Instead, I’m writing about those trained in mental health counseling who can provide services to all students with emphasis on those in crisis, not just those with disabilities. After all, as cited in the work by Stagman and Cooper I previously mentioned, children with mental health problems have lower educational achievement, greater involvement with the criminal justice system, and fewer stable and long-term placements in the child welfare system than their peers.

So, what exactly are the Decorah Schools doing to address the issues of bullying, harassment, and mental health issues? At the John Cline/Carrie Lee buildings, Counselor Lindy Borske-Hubbard teaches guidance classes to all grade levels, working on social and emotional skills. As needed, Lindy also works with students dealing with a crisis, such as death and divorce. 

The second graders have REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) worked into their curriculum. This helps them understand their thinking process and identify both helpful and unhelpful ways of thinking. Positive Behavior and Intervention Supports (PBIS) is a part of the elementary curriculum as well. This supports building a climate with common expectations, positive awards and community building. Imbedded in PBIS is our anti-bullying work focusing on monthly themes that promote such concepts as caring, kindness, good sportsmanship, and so on. If needed, a counselor from Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health works directly with students in the school setting.

At Decorah Middle School, our counselor provides professional development for the staff with topics like depression and suicide. Mental health topics are taught in both guidance and health classes, with outside agencies assisting with instruction.  

The foundation of our bullying prevention program aligns with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program and has been in place for several years now. Bullying and harassment definitions and ways to report are covered at all grade-level introduction class meetings. The Middle School offers four ways to report bullying, with all of them outlined in the Student Planner. What I feel is the most important option is the “Safe School Anonymous Reporting” form, which is exactly what it sounds like — students can report to Ms. Hoth or Mr. Stock anonymously if they feel harassment, abuse, or are feeling suicidal or know of someone who is. This has proven very helpful in providing support to students.

At Decorah High School, students impacted by mental health issues are supported in a variety of ways. Partnerships exist with both Winneshiek Medical Center and Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health. Dr. Bridgit Hensley works directly with the high school guidance counselor and high school principal on a monthly basis. Dr. Hensley also serves as a consultant in the areas of student needs and services, curriculum and program design and offerings.  

With NEIBH, Counselor Joelle Neilson meets on a weekly basis at the high school with students who receive services. Special classes to help students make the transition from middle school to high school are offered to students who face issues related to mental health.  

Pat Trewin, guidance counselor, works with the teacher of the class to assist students and/or facilitate learning activities as needed. Likewise, Mr. Trewin meets with students on a regular basis for individual counseling sessions. The number of sessions is determined by individual student need. Even class schedules are adjusted as needed to reduce anxiety. Students and parents can take an active role in the design of the student’s school day. The following options are available:   

• A blended schedule with a combination of on-line classes and classes in the traditional school setting.

• A specially designed schedule/school day to provide specific order of classes during the school day.

• A schedule that is exclusively made up of on-line courses is available.

• If needed, we can shorten the student’s school day.  Most often this occurs when the student’s Doctor/Therapist makes the recommendation and the student has a 504.


Students who have chronic mental health issues can be served by a 504 plan, allowing for accommodations in their classes or their school day.

In terms of bullying and harassment at the high school, principals, counselors and student support services personnel investigate all bullying referrals. Action is taken dependent upon the result of the investigation. Social media is responsible for the largest portion of bullying/harassment referrals. All freshman students attend a session “Pause Before You Post” in which students are reminded to carefully consider the content of social media posts, how to respond should they receive a hurtful/damaging post, and which individuals can assist them when problems and questions arise.   

Students in grades 10 – 12 are reminded of this information during their class meetings at the beginning of the school year. Follow-up information/reminders are shared periodically during the school year during homerooms. Bullying/harassment and the importance of treating others with dignity and respect are infused into classroom learning activities. This is also an important topic with students at the beginning of the school year in each of the class meetings and at 9th grade orientation.

I would be the first individual to say the Decorah Schools are by no means perfect when it comes to the topics of bullying, harassment, and student health. Yet, as is evidenced by this overview of efforts being made, it is a topic taken seriously by the District.