top of page

Tomah, WI: District funding being used for "mental/behavioral health"; more therapists needed

Dec 18, 2019, WKBT La Crosse, WI: News 8 Investigates: Securing Our Schools: How one district is addressing mental health TOMAH, Wis. (WKBT) — Nearly $100 million in state funding is being used to improve security in Wisconsin schools. As part of this statewide initiative to stop violence in our schools, lawmakers have also focused on addressing mental health. Following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting which left 17 dead and many other wounded, Wisconsin legislators approved $100 million in funding for school security. If a district received some of that grant money, school officials were required to undergo mental health training and make physical security improvements to school buildings. But the second round of grant funds was meant to advance prior training and additional building security…. One area school district is using that state funding to not only secure its schools but create a safer community. While the teacher is leading a class at Tomah’s Miller Elementary School, Nicole Milliren is watching. There’s one child in the classroom that needs extra attention. “Things we’ve tried are not working. They still tend to be frustrated or act out and have possibly difficulties making friendships or connections. Either with classmates or their teachers,” said Diana Lesneski, principal at Miller Elementary. Milliren is a therapist specialized in addressing trauma. She’s looking at how teachers are interacting with these kids…. The Tomah Area School District received a total of $393,518 in school safety grant funding. Superintendent Cindy Zahrte said most of the money has been used to improve the physical security of district buildings, but other funding is being devoted to addressing mental and behavioral health issues…. The school district hired Milliren using a combination of school district, federal grant and state grant funding through the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Office of School Safety. Milliren has provided training for its entire staff in addition to one-on-one coaching…. Milliren has been using a tool called Circle of Security. It’s a relationship model to identify when kids are seeking support from adults, like teachers, and how these adults can address their needs. “Kids with challenging behaviors– typical consequences don’t work. And they don’t work long term,” Milliren said. The district has been learning about Adverse Childhood Experiences as a way to understand how trauma affects children into adulthood. But Circle of Security explains how that turns into behaviors. … “You might have some students that are really quiet, really reserved, they don’t let people in, they shut people out. Sometimes those kids can’t hold that lid too long. So they explode,” Milliren said. The mental health organization ‘National Alliance on Mental Illness‘ reports 10 percent of youth have a behavior or conduct disorder. While 20 percent of children ages 13 through 18 have or will have a serious mental illness. … Milliren’s training will continue on a monthly basis for the rest of the school year in addition to the one on one coaching…. The superintendent said they are looking at increasing the amount of school-based therapists to work with students. And the district has invited the medical community around the area to share ideas about the issues.


bottom of page