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WAPS program addresses addiction, mental health (06/16/2013)
By Jen Burris

The Pathways concept was first mentioned nearly a year ago at a School Board meeting as a way to treat kids dealing with chemical dependency and mental health issues. The School Board recently discussed the progress the program has made so far.

In July 2012, the School Board garnered $27,000 for the Pathways concept, for the 2012-2013 school year. The program successfully ran for five months, starting in January, with enrollment hovering between five and eight students at a time, according to Kelly Halvorson, Winona Senior High School Principal.

The goal of Pathways was not only to keep Winona students at home and in the area, but also to keep them enrolled in school, Halvorson said. “When we analyzed the data, we found a lot of our students were leaving the community and heading to treatment outside of the community,” she said. Many students live and work in Winona after they turn 18, so there is a positive impact being made to our community and future economic growth if we can get them help while they are still in high school, Halvorson said.

The program follows a daily routine that allows students time for treatment, as well as time for academics. According to Becky Windschitl, Hiawatha Valley mental health adolescent therapist, the Pathways program began in the morning with breakfast and a small break, followed by an hour and a half of mental health therapy. At 10:30 a.m. there was a second break, after which Todd Hoffe worked with the students regarding chemical dependency, she said.

The three hours that were devoted to the program have been deemed too intense, Windschitl said. Three hours is a long time for anybody to be in an intense, emotionally charged situation, Windschitl said. There is no room for growth and development in the program without change, she added. Next year, the program will run from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., with district transportation to and from the site. Halvorson said there may have been a problem this year with students skipping class after the morning program, and it is hoped that can be avoided in the future.

According to Halvorson, the program is not meant to be long-term for the students, but is meant to improve their situation in order for them to return to a normal routine.

The planning for Pathways next year has already begun, Halvorson said. Monthly discussions will continue regarding enrolling new students and reaching out to communicate with parents or other family members of potential students.

“Students are able to feel safe and open in the environment, with both informal (friends and family), and formal (teachers and therapists) support,” Windschitl said.

“Recovery is an ongoing process of ebbs and flows...the more supportive people are, the more successful the students will be in the future,” Windschitl said.

While the success of the program hasn’t been measured yet, there has been positive feedback from the students, according to those involved with the program. Halvorson was told a student approached an adult at the high school after the first few weeks and said, “This is the best thing that ever happened to me.” According to Windschitl, another promising note is that all of the students have made decisions on their own to continue their therapy at Pathways throughout the summer. “Their treatment is their choice,” Windschitl said. 


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