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Bridging the mental health gap at Simle Middle School

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) – Middle school can be a hard time for students to navigate. So when teachers and faculty at Bismarck’s Simle Middle School noticed a need for mental health support, they sprang into action.

Last year, the school clinical psychologist saw 36 students, and many others have been benefitting from Simle’s “Systems of Support” program, where the students can get access to three tiers of behavioral health help.

“Behavioral health is for all, so all of us have needs, so when you think of in a school setting, it’s important that all kids receive skills, and how to deal with resilience,” said Principal Russ Riehl.

The program is a partnership between Bismarck Public Schools, Sanford Health, and the Department of Human Services Behavioral Health Division.

“We’re all in this together. I mean, it’s not just one student it’s not two. It’s not just students — it’s community members, it’s adults. It’s everybody, so we’re all in this together and I think being there for each other is huge,” said Chelsi Hertz, parent-family liaison.

The program allows the students to access the help for free, without having to go through a medical provider.

“We’re working just like they are. So taking time off work is difficult, and it’s an hour-long session outside of the school. So the fact they get to do it here, parents get to stay at work, students get to stay in school, it’s honestly a win-win,” said Hertz.

Mikaila Kaseman worked at another school as a counselor before Simle, and notices the change in the students who have access to the psychologist.

“You can tell a difference between student performance academically and behaviorally,” said Mikaila Kaseman, 8th-grade counselor.

Simle Middle School has seen an overall shift in the way mental health is viewed.

“We would deal more with consequences. Now, we think more in terms of interventions,” said Riehl.

The three-tier help system also allows students to be helped quicker and alleviates the stress of referrals.

“We knew kids who may have needed to be seen by a clinician were scheduled out months prior, and a lot of these things can’t wait that long,” said Riehl.

“Systems of Support” has helped the team to see that internal behavioral problems are just as important as external problems.

Riehl encourages parents to reach out to their children’s schools and ask for support.

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