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ISD 882 offers plethora of services through social workers, counselors, and partnerships

One of the things the Monticello School District prioritizes is making an encompassing array of services available for all students, from all walks of life. Often, the first line of responders for students or families in need in the school district are social workers and counselors. They wear countless hats, and provide immeasurable help to many.

The school district currently has nine social workers (one at Eastview Education Center, two at each elementary school, the middle school, and the high school) and four counselors (one at the middle school, and three at the high school). Depending on their building, they each take on different roles, but they all share the same main goals - to help students through difficult times and with overcoming adversity of all kinds, to be happy kids and successful students.

Little Mountain Elementary Social Worker Jen Simon “I enjoy being a school social worker for many reasons but one of the biggest reasons I enjoy this work is seeing students grow as they work through struggles they are facing,” said Jen Simon, a social worker at Little Mountain Elementary. “Students come to school with a variety of social, emotional and behavioral difficulties that create barriers to their learning. Being able to advocate and offer support in order to decrease those barriers is what drives so many of us to continue in this field.”

They provide help that runs the gamut from proactive to responsive. They go into classrooms at each level to teach certain lessons, such as good safe and unsafe touch to the younger grades, healthy relationships, safety lessons, and more. They’re involved with putting together curriculum. They hold support groups for a wide range of topics, as well as providing individual support to any student that needs it. And they serve on numerous teams, ranging from crisis management to discipline boards.

However, for as much as they do in house, one of the most important services that social workers and counselors provide is acting as a funnel toward other resources or services.

“That’s part of our main job, is getting people to these outside resources,” said Annette Bieniek. “There are a lot of people that don’t know these resources exist.”

Some of the organizations that the district can direct kids toward through partnerships, include: Catholic Charities, Central MN Mental Health Center, Crisis Connection, Emergency Psychiatric Services, Family Counseling Center, Lutheran Social Services, and Wright County Human Services. The district also partners with a number of other organizations to bring programs into the school, and take a proactive approach when possible, such as with the Bounce Back Project.

Social workers and counselors around the district are quick to note the ever-growing importance of being able to offer a wide range of services to help students succeed.

“These partnerships are very important to us,” said Simon. “When families are in need of help, sometimes they do not know where to begin and they turn to schools for assistance. Having partnerships with other agencies to refer families to allows us to offer additional support for things the schools are not able to fulfill.”

Monticello Middle School Social Worker Annette Bieniek Bieniek, in her 22nd year as a social worker at Monticello Middle School, said social workers and counselors are often able to work as a go between for families and these outside services.

“Insurance systems, health systems, that stuff can be complicated,” said Bieniek. “We can help them navigate all of that and get to the services as quickly as possible.”

One of the most unique partnerships is one that provides students with a mental health care option both inside and outside of the school walls.

For a decade now, the school has partnered with Central Minnesota Mental Health Center to place a therapist in district buildings on certain days of the week to provide help for students who may not be able to make out of school appointments for any number of reasons. And since the center has several area locations, including one in Monticello, it allows for a continuity of service for those that can make or need to make appointments outside of the school building.

The service is termed school-linked mental health. It became prevalent in Minnesota about a decade ago, through a large funding grant. Central Minnesota Mental Health Center is currently on its second round of grant funding. The whole idea behind the grant and the school-based services was to make mental health care more readily available for those in need.

“What that does is it places a mental health provider in the school,” said Sheri Tesch, a program manager for CMMHC. “We can see kids during the course of the school day. We can also coordinate with school staff and be able to meet the needs of what is happening in the school.”

The therapist in Monticello schools is Gina Theisz. Theisz started in the district last spring. She spends one day a week each at the middle school and high school and splits a third day between Pinewood and Little Mountain Elementary. Theisz will also spend time at Eastview Education Center beginning this spring. Up until two years ago, only the high school and middle school had a therapist for one day a week each.

Gina Theisz Theisz worked in an outpatient clinic for seven years, before coming into the school district last spring. She said she loves being able to be inside of the school walls.

“I really enjoy it a lot, kind of being in the environment with the kids, meeting them where they’re at, and being able to coordinate with the school staff - I think it’s important,” said Theisz.

Bieniek said the program is extremely beneficial, and that having Theisz come on as the school-linked therapist has been a wonderful fit.

“She’s awesome. She’s a great communicator,” said Bieniek. “It’s very clear as to the process she has in place. It’s a two way street being able to communicate with her the needs that we see, and her being able to give us feedback with the things that she thinks might be helpful that we can incorporate in to their world every day.”

In today’s society, the stressors that students face continue to multiply, and self-care becomes more and more important. Social workers and counselors partner with all available services as they continue to find the best ways to address the growing need.

“How do we intervene early on and provide those skills and that support for individuals? Asked Tesch. “I think that’s key for helping kids to be successful at school, and be successful with friends and social interactions.”

“The amount of stress children are dealing with ... if the outside world would know what some of these kids come to school with every day, I mean, we would take the day off, we would take the week off, we would take the month off,” said Bieniek. “But they are right here. We have to teach them coping skills, to manage disabilities - that’s what makes it or breaks it for kids.”

The biggest aim of the school-based therapy partnership, and of everything that social workers and counselors do, is to provide any and all services that can help to remove any and all road blocks to happiness and success. Social workers and counselors across the district encourage one thing, more than anything else. If you think you need help, in any way, or know someone who does, a family member, friend, or acquaintance, reach out and learn more about all of the ways they can provide help.

“We encourage anyone who is even considering needing services to reach out to social workers and talk about it,” said Bieniek. “I get a ton of families that just appreciate it so much to have that support - someone who is not judging them, who is walking alongside of them, somebody that can help kind of hold their hand, and be on their side in these tough situations. I just think it’s completely invaluable for the community to have.”


EDITOR'S NOTE: The district is continually looking at ways to better the services it provides to all of our students and citizens, and that includes in the area of mental health. Please take a minute to fill out this mental health services survey in order to help us continue to be at the forefront of mental health in education, and to help us continue to best meet the needs of our community: TAKE SURVEY HERE


Click HERE for a full list of social workers and counselors at each building in the school district.