When children experience hardship or trauma, they carry a huge amount of emotional stress with them everywhere they go – including to school. Studies show that traumatic stress has a significant negative effect on the developing brain. Such stress leaves students preoccupied and unable to focus at school, resulting in behavior issues and poor academic performance.
Studies also show, however, that in a nurturing environment where stress is buffered and students are supported, academic performance can improve. A program called P.A.T.H. through Family Services of Waukesha, a United Way program partner, aims to support educators’ efforts to meet students’ psychological, social, and emotional needs.
These services are being funded at three additional Waukesha schools this year, thanks to a grant through the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County’s Helping Kids Succeed initiative.
P.A.T.H. places therapists in schools to provide clinical services to students and consultation to school staff.
One of the P.A.T.H. therapists, Sophia Klingbiel, LCSW, works with the three schools added to the program this year through the Helping Kids Succeed initiative – Blair and Hadfield Elementary Schools, and Waukesha South High School. She says that having therapy services available at school helps remove barriers that prevent many students from receiving the social and emotional support they need.
“Work schedules, cost of care, and transportation issues prevent many families from getting their student the care they need,” says Sophia. “Offering therapy at school, with reduced or waived fees, has made it possible to help several Waukesha students who wouldn’t otherwise get care.”
Although the program is in its first year at Blair Elementary, Principal Adia Cruz-Farin is already seeing improved attendance and a reduction in behavioral incidents among the scholars (as students are called at Blair) receiving the services her school.
“When kids aren’t socially and emotionally regulated, they aren’t ready to learn,” she says. “But most schools don’t have the expertise or funding to provide the level of support these scholars need.”
Principal Cruz-Farin points out that having a therapist who is seen as part of the school helps to reduce the stigma associated with seeking therapy. Sophia is invited to behavior problem-solving team meetings and meetings with parents, integrating her services into the school’s programming. And, since therapy services are kept confidential, scholars don’t feel singled out.
For one Blair scholar, just five months of therapy with Sophia has already been life-changing. When the scholar transferred to Blair from another district, they were homeless and pre-expulsion. The scholar was prone to outbursts, was often suspended and missed a lot of school. As Principal Cruz-Farin describes it, the school “wrapped around” the family, implementing a plan for the scholar that included therapy with Sophia. Just months later, the scholar is showing major progress and has had no suspensions at Blair. Working as a team with Sophia’s involvement, teachers and staff have been able to de-escalate behavioral issues and keep the scholar in school.
“The response from teachers and parents to P.A.T.H. has been very positive,” says Principal Cruz-Farin. “Teachers feel more supported and parents are very appreciative since many could not afford treatment on their own.”
“On behalf of the families P.A.T.H. serves, thank you to the generous community members who support the United Way,” says Principal Cruz-Farin. “Programs like this help students work through the challenges that are making it difficult for them to learn, allowing them to grow and succeed,”
Learn more about how United Way’s Helping Kids Succeed initiative is taking action to improve outcomes in Waukesha Public Schools.