By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
This year marked Ruth Bourman’s first year teaching senior kindergarten at Mount Lebanon Lutheran school. Since 2019, the school has been partnered with Christian Family Solutions (CFS), a nonprofit organization that provides school-based counseling, outpatient programs and more for students.
Currently, CFS is working with 18 schools in Milwaukee and it recently received a $100,000 grant from Bader Philanthropies to continue its work.
Mark Klug, the CEO of CFS, explained that the organization began in the 60s and worked mainly with seniors. A decade later, it shifted its focus to mental health and in 2009 it began working with Milwaukee schools to provide mental health services.
Through its STRONG (Successfully Treating and Reaching Our Next Generation) Day Treatment Program, children experiencing anxiety, depressions, hyperactivity, attention deficit and other mental health conditions can receive the help they need to be successful in school.
About 15% to 20% of children nationwide experience struggle with some form of mental health, Klug said. Through CFS, children can receive the help and tools they need to succeed in school and life.
Bourman noticed that one of her scholars was having a hard time socially and emotionally, which detracted from her learning time. Through CFS, the scholar was able to start seeing Renee Thompson, a counselor with CFS.
Thompson started taking the scholar out for pull out sessions two times a week. Bourman noted that when the scholar came back to class, she was ready to learn. Eventually, the sessions occurred once a week or on a need to basis.
“Counseling gives scholars a really safe place to share,” said Bourman.
As a teacher with a classroom full of children, Bourman doesn’t always have the chance to dedicate one-on-one time to each student, but with CFS the students in need of extra help are able to get the help they need.
The counselors also work with teachers to ensure they have the proper tools to best serve children in need of some extra support. Bourman said her partnership with Thompson has helped her connect better with her scholars.
If Bourman notices certain tendencies in a student, Thompson will offer tools to facilitate a better learning environment. For the aforementioned scholar, Bourman used a sticker chart as motivation to follow directions. For another scholar, Bourman gave them more wiggle time and an opportunity to sit next to her during carpet time so the student would feel more involved.
Since the pandemic, CFS has switched to telehealth, which allows a counselor to virtually connect with students through videoconferencing or phone calls. Klug said telehealth has been an essential tool to continue CFS’s mission to help, heal and serve the community.
He added that telehealth is effective, cost efficient and allows for better reach. With help from the Bader Philanthropies grant, CFS has been able to train additional counselors. So far, five counselors have been added to the STRONG Day Treatment Program staff.
With so much happening right now, counseling has proven to be an essential part for these students.
“These kids are really able to show resilience [during this time] and we continue to empower them,” Klug said.
Currently, STRONG provides services to over 200 students with plans to reach more in the years to come.