Ketchikan’s school board heard a report from Women in Safe Homes staff regarding a partnership between WISH and the district for mental health counseling services for students. The program, funded by a grant from the state’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, launched in Ketchikan High School last September.

WISH staff say two programs were implemented this past year. The first is an enhanced social services program at Ketchikan High School. Through that program, they were able to hire a counselor employed by WISH and a full-time behavioral health aide employed by Ketchikan Indian Community.

Samantha Funk is the licensed professional counselor. She says the program offers an open door policy so students can walk in at any time to get help.

“We also, importantly, provide a referral source to community mental health providers for youth who have needs that exceed what we can provide. We also provide referral to victim services – going back to KIC, going back to WISH – and looking at how we can meet a youth’s or a family’s need in any way that we can.”

Funk says they were also able to counsel youth who were on wait lists for other social service organizations such as Community Connections and Ketchikan Indian Community.

“Wait lists in this community can be pretty extensive. Kids can go six or eight weeks on a wait list. That’s not unheard of. And we can imagine how much that could exacerbate an existing issue.”

Though some incidents must be reported, such as abuse, Funk says the cost-free services are otherwise confidential.

“Because we’re separate from the school, the fact that they’re coming to see a mental health provider isn’t on their school record. It’s not on their system of any kind.”

Funk says district staff and faculty have been very supportive and have referred students to her services. She says 23 youth had been served in the high school last year during 102 counseling sessions.

“And that was an average of four to five sessions per kid. These were kids with needs, with a capital ‘N,’ ‘Needs’ that weren’t necessarily just coming in because they needed a place to vent. Although we had some of those too and that’s perfectly fine. These were kids that needed to work through some stuff.”

She says four referrals were made to community health providers and two to victim services.

Funk says goals for next year are to have lunchtime and afterschool youth activities and to expand the counseling program to Revilla Junior-Senior High School and Schoenbar Middle School.

Arika Paquette is WISH’s community services director.  She says despite challenges of the pandemic, WISH was able to make over 200 presentations in schools.

“We had 4000-5000 interactions with students doing our ‘Safe and Unsafe Touch’ personal safety presentations starting in preschool up through 12th grade.”

Paquette says WISH was able to secure a second federal grant for next school year from the Office of Violence Against Women and is currently recruiting for an elementary school counselor.

“It will be a counselor that specifically works with kids who have been the victims of trauma to get them those interim services in the school during the day.”

Paquette says WISH is hoping to work with the district to make sure school policies and procedures are in place so staff will know how to respond and make referrals if a student impacted by trauma approaches them.

In other business Wednesday night, the board approved contracts with five teachers for next school year. The board also accepted approximately $3 million in grants, all but $100,000 of it from the American Rescue Plan Act. The others are state and federal grants the district applies for and accepts annually.