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Rugby schools add mental health counselor

By Staff | Aug 17, 2018


Rugby Public Schools added a mental health counselor to their staff for the 2018-19 school year to address needs identified in a behavior risk study presented last year.

Dori Lennert, who is originally from Budapest, Hungary, holds a Master’s degree in behavioral sciences from the University of Mary as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor. She will provide clinical counseling services not only to Rugby Public Schools, but Pierce County agencies as well. Her first day as a provider was Wednesday.

As a result of an arrangement between Pierce County Commissioners and the Rugby Public School District, Lennert will provide services to the Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center and Pierce County Social Services. The County agreed to fund 2/3 of the counseling budget, and the remaining third would be funded by the school district.

Dr. Mike McNeff, Rugby Public Schools superintendent, told the Tribune the data indicating a need for mental health services came from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which was done in depth in 2016. The school received the survey results in 2017.

“There was an uptick in depression, anxiety, suicide ideation all those things that kind of go along with it (a need for mental health services),” McNeff said. “In general, students felt less happy when we compared 2009 to 2016. And that’s not an anomaly in Rugby. Because with the survey data, you can compare it with the state. And (the problems) are across the state, and, I would argue, across the nation, in terms of an increase in mental illness.”

McNeff noted he and fellow educators have also seen more issues with student behaviors in their classroom environments.

“Talking with other superintendents from across the state, it’s on the rise. Probably in younger grades more than you think,” McNeff said.

“We see physical to verbal behaviors,” McNeff continued. “The thing when you look at it from a younger child is, it’s more physical. It’s outbursts; it’s tantrums. As they get older, I think it goes more inside. It’s more internal than external that I can see. That’s concerning. Because now, if they haven’t found a way to cope, and it’s internal, and they’re not talking to professionals about it, it leads to different ways to cope, such as alcohol and drug abuse, or suicide.”

After McNeff presented the survey data to the County Commissioners in a regular meeting in February, he collaborated with HACTC Administrator Mike Graner and County Social Services Director Melinda Bischoff-Voeller to develop a job description for a mental health counselor and a service plan. They presented the description to the Commissioners in their regular March 6 meeting. Commissioners approved funding for counseling services at that meeting.

McNeff presented a counseling schedule to the Commissioners in a special meeting on July 17. The schedule allocates three days per week to Rugby schools and one day each to County Social Services and HACTC.

Both Graner and Bischoff-Voeller said they welcome the availability of counseling services at their agencies.

Graner wrote in an email to the Tribune, “The need is significant as it pertains to mental health issues with the inmate population. We repeatedly encounter inmates that present with mental illness issues and we lack the resources to effectively deal with these issues.”

Graner indicated the most common issues with individuals housed at the jail are mood and anxiety disorders, poor coping skills, impulse control issues and poor problem solving skills.

He also noted the inmates under the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service are usually unable to access mental health services until they are sentenced and placed in the Bureau of Prisons.

Graner added, “By adding a mental health professional we have access to a resource that has been severely lacking. Ms. Lennert will be able to assist us in dealing with offenders that are in crisis. She will be able to meet with these offenders face-to-face and be a resource for the offender and for our staff. Ms. Lennert will be instrumental in educating our staff on mental illness, how to treat it, and how to work with those struggling. Ms. Lennert will be vital in directing our efforts when we have an inmate that is actively suicidal. Along with that she will also be a resource for those individuals that just need to talk and get some feedback/education on how to cope with the issues they face.”

Bischoff-Voeller said, “We plan to have (Lennert) work with our in home services, family services, and our child protective and foster care services. We will also be working with her in the school settings, because many of the families’ needs cross over into the school system.”

Lennert indicated she will provide group counseling, individual counseling, and lessons on coping skills and self-care at her various work settings.

“I want to teach about mental health, and how it is important to take care of ourselves, and to learn some coping skills. Also, I want to provide help, and let them know there is help. They don’t have to deal with it by yourself. I want to reach out. Someone may not know there is help available. So, I want to reach out and advertise and let people know about the services we provide in social services, or in the school, too.”

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