Kalon Prep Academy in Alexandria offers several mental health services to its students – Alexandria Echo Press
ALEXANDRIA – Kalon Prep Academy takes the mental health of its students seriously. They have put in place various services and resources to ensure that students receive the best help available.
From counseling and therapy to activities, zen rooms and strength-focused assessments, there is no shortage of mental health services provided by Kalon — and demand is high, according to school leaders.
Some of the most common issues students face are anxiety and ADHD, as well as outside factors that deteriorate their mental well-being.
The services provided not only benefit the mental health of the students, but also put them on the right track for a successful educational career.
“The main theme is love,” said school principal Chris Kragenbring. “We have this heart for (the students) and we pour it out and sometimes it’s tough love… that’s important too.”
Kayla Hoelscher, the emotional learning worker, is the equivalent of the school social worker. She is there to provide mental, emotional and behavioral health support to students when they face challenges.
She focuses on healthy coping skills and emotional identification – how they feel – and works with students to see what can be done to help them deal with the emotions they are experiencing.
“I’m really focused on building relationships,” Hoelscher said. “Without relationships, it’s hard to create progress.”
If the issues students are facing require additional counseling, Hoelscher will refer them to one of three student therapists who work frequently within the school. One of them is Molly Swenson-Iserman, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).
Along with Swenson-Iserman are Jeff Cross of West Central Counseling and Megan Schmidt of Solutions Counseling. The three have teamed up to offer their services on-site in Kalon four days a week.
Kragenbring said there’s a “ton” of communication with parents when it comes to a student’s mental health. They don’t keep them in the dark.
“There is no therapy until the parents sign off,” Swenson-Iserman added. “Families are very aware that the kids have support here if they get over-stressed, over-stimulated, or break down. And the kids know they have places to go.”
“Our school’s decomposed name, Kalon, becomes the best version of you and you can’t tell if other things are going on,” Kragenbring said. “Research shows that if a child comes to school and hasn’t eaten breakfast, their brain is not ready to learn and function. The same is true if they have anxiety. If that happens, the learning brain has shut down and the survival brain has taken over.”
In addition to Therapists and the Emotional Learning Interventionist, Kalon offers other resources to improve a student’s mental health.
Seasonal affective disorder treatment lamps are available for students as well as soothing puzzles and “fidget” devices. Kragenbring says the school also hopes to get a therapy dog on site. While there was one last year named Leo, he is no longer in school due to a lack of funding for proper training.
“If people have trained therapy dogs and they want to come into our school and come visit us, we’d love that,” Kragenbring said. “We had a child who responded to Leo last year…he was very anxious. He spent time with Leo and he was able to calm down…now he is thriving.”
There is also a “Zen room” where students can take an emotional break and “reset”.
“We have rules about that,” Kragenbring said when asked if the Zen room could be abused by students. “If you’re there every day all day and you feel like it’s an avoidance to get out of class, then we have a meeting. We call home to discuss if there’s more going on. things.”
Kalon also offers a REACH class – relationships, education, responsibility, character and hard work. The whole school is REACH based, but the class itself is where students are brought to discuss issues they may be facing so that they don’t miss core subjects like math, English , science and social studies. This way, students can stay on the right academic path while getting the help they need.
To help determine the best course of action when it comes to a student’s mental health, they use the Gallup Stengthsfinder which highlights their top five strengths. The idea is to get students to be positive and focus on what they are good at rather than being negative and focus on what they are not so good at.
Beyond sanity, classroom teachers also use the Force Seeker to help educate students.
“In this small environment, (students) have the chance to show off their strengths,” Kragenbring said.
A major driver of having on-site therapists for students comes from Kragenbring’s 32 years of experience in education. At previous schools where she worked, she found that getting students in need of mental health care to see a professional therapist was always a challenge.
“When Kalon became a reality, part of the application process was about mental health and child support. It was a non-negotiable,” Kragenbring said. “We had to find therapists who would be on campus.”
She added that Swenson-Iserman, Cross and Schmidt are “full to the brim” with work and that Kalon is open to having more therapists in partnership with the school.
While Hoelscher’s work is covered by the school, Swenson-Iserman, Cross and Schmidt are contracted out, meaning their services come at a cost. Some insurance covers their costs and the school offers financial assistance through fundraising.
At the end of last September, Kalon hosted a bingo fundraiser that raised $6,500. The money is for students who have not completed their admissions records and those who are uninsured or underinsured.
“(Swenson-Iserman) was able to spend 24 hours with students and I was able to write him a check with that donated money,” Kragenbring said. “The community is extremely, extremely generous with us.”
The Douglas County Mental Health Collaborative has allocated $2,000 to Kalon which, like fundraising money, is used to pay for therapists’ salaries and other school-provided resources.
When asked if the need for more mental health services is due to an increase in mental health issues or if it’s always been common, Kragenbring says she thinks it’s just that the stigma behind the seeking help decreases.
“I think before, more kids hid their (problems) and it took a lot for them to open up,” Kragenbring said. “I think we’ve gotten to a point where people are more willing to ask for help and accept help.”
Krangenbring said mental health services are important to Kalon because they help students move from “survival to thriving.”
She added that since the establishment of mental health services, there has been a big positive change in student attitudes and outlook.
Swenson-Iserman says it’s about giving students a voice, letting them know they’re being heard.