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School District of La Crosse, Gundersen partnering to offer therapy sessions to referred students

A new partnership between the School District of La Crosse and Gundersen Health System will provide students with mental health services from behavioral health professionals.

Curt Teff

Funded through part of a $2.5 million, multi-year Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education) grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the program will be offered for three years, likely starting this spring, with hopes for extension.

The objectives of Project AWARE are to increase the capacity for schools to respond to onsite mental health; increase youth and family voice and authentic engagement; improve cross-system collaboration to improve mental health supports for children and youth; and increase access to and engagement of mental health wellness and treatment resources for children and youth.

“This partnership with Gundersen touches on all four of these goals,” says Curt Teff, director of community services for the School District of La Crosse.

Applications for two 0.85 FTE licensed clinical therapy positions are now being accepted, with one clinician to work with younger students and the other with older students. The therapists will provide services in addition to those offered by the counselors, social workers and community workers already serving the school district.

Josh Court

Teachers, families and school counselors may offer referrals for students they feel would benefit from mental health support, with each student able to have five sessions with a therapist, either in a private room at their school or at a Gundersen facility, at no charge. Additional appointments will be referred to other community agencies.

The program, says Teff, will help close some of the gaps when it comes serving youth, especially for those facing economic or transportation barriers to professional mental health care. While in the past schools have focused solely on academics, the School District is placing an emphasis on serving “the whole child,” Teff says, which includes wellness.

Therapists, who will be on staff the duration of the school year, likely beginning near the end of spring semester pending the hiring process, will concentrate on both supporting professional development — collaborating with student services staff to expand in-school mental health offerings, creating supportive environments, recognizing and monitoring mental health needs, substance abuse education, regular outreach via workshops, social media, newsletters and forums — and strengthening the mental health continuum of care. The latter includes psychoeducational support for students and parents, early intervention for those with concerns regarding mental health or substance abuse, brief intervention if needed and providing information on handling school related transitions and adjustments.

Helping students before issues or concerns manifest is key, says Josh Court of Gundersen Health System. For some youth and adolescents, by the time they have access to therapy “they’ve already been through a lot.”

“What we’ve seen even before COVID is the amount of stress students and teachers are under,” Court says. “I think our schools are stressed and for our kids going there, they have mental health needs that aren’t always being recognized.”

The program, Court hopes, will help equip students with an arsenal of healthy ways to cope, tips on navigating issues that arise, stress prevention tactics and the confidence to advocate for their needs, with sessions conducted in a safe environment with a trusted professional.

“This is really an exciting opportunity to have a greater impact,” Court says.

For more information on Project AWARE, visit

To apply for the clinical therapist positions, visit—-School-District-of-La-Crosse-Student-and-Family-Assistance-Program_JR-3856-1


IN PHOTOS: Local community members wear face masks (copy)

GOOD WORKS | Big Brothers Big Sisters
Good Works: Big Brothers Big Sisters keeping up the mission

Over the last few months, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the 7 Rivers Region (BBBS7) continues to serve over 100 active matches in the community despite the barriers of social distancing.

At BBBS7, we believe that all children have inherent potential and that, through mentorship, we can help youth achieve that potential. As an agency, we are uniquely positioned to provide individualized support to children who are feeling the brunt of this pandemic.

With schools functioning differently and a loss of family income in those we serve, children need mentorship now more than ever. Through our conversations with BBBS7 families, it is evident that those struggling pre-pandemic were only hit harder last March when the quarantine first began.

Thankfully, our program is 100% free to the families that we serve, alleviating the burden on guardians struggling to keep their children connected, engaged and growing. Given that 54.6% of families in our program live at or below an average household income of $25,000 a year, we understand the importance of getting families connected to necessary resources and offering our professional guidance.

As we all know, this year has been emotionally and physically taxing on the children in our community. Social isolation can increase the likelihood of exposure to domestic violence, abuse and neglect, while also compounding the effects of trauma. With more children spending time at home, our agency has become the first line of resources for many children when issues arise at home.

Bigs and staff members quickly catch situations that guidance counselors or teachers may have typically caught in the past. The trauma that children face in our community can have negative effects on their mental health and physical well-being, our agency is directly working to mitigate that trauma that too many young people experience.

When the pandemic began, BBBS7 shifted the way we look at everything: creating unique virtual ways for our Matches to meet, sending out monthly resources for Bigs and guardians, and supporting our Matches through our professionally-trained and trauma-informed staff members. Through personal conversations about our families’ individual needs, we have worked one-to-one to get families connected to resources that better support and guide them.

Our Matches have also found creative solutions to meeting and connecting. Big Brother Troy and Little Brother Quinten, the 2020 Match of the Year, spent 2020 virtually connecting over FaceTime, boating, mini-golfing, sledding, taking trips to the store and learning how to play the keyboard.

“The program has given Quinten a consistent male role model since he doesn’t have many male role models in his life,” said Quinten’s mother. “With Troy, he is comfortable and knows he can go out and do things confidently.”

Now, perhaps more than ever, our mission is urgent and important. As we continue to navigate uncharted territory and uncertain challenges in the next few months, we are ready and working hard to empower the youth in our community. Ultimately, when our community is thriving, our children thrive and achieve their greatest possible future.

To join us in advocating for our families, we respectfully encourage you to consider becoming a Big (our highest need is currently in the Winona community), registering for our 2021 events, or sharing our mission and vision statement so that we can expand our reach. To learn more about getting involved in our mission, visit

IN PHOTOS: Local community members wear face masks (copy)

top story
Great River Road, two other scenic routes win national designations

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) last week celebrated cooperative efforts along three of the state’s major waterfronts that won Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) designations for their national importance as tourism destinations.

The FHWA’s National Scenic Byways Program declared the Wisconsin Great River Road (previously recognized as a National Scenic Byway) an All-American Road.

Wisconsin’s Lake Superior Byway and Door County’s Coastal Byway both gained National Scenic Byway designations. The routes are selected based upon the archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities they offer.

“It is a well-deserved honor for these three routes to gain National Scenic Byways titles, which help guide travelers from around the world,” WisDOT Secretary-designee Craig Thompson said. “I want to thank all those who worked on these designations and welcome anyone to enjoy the spectacular beauty and recreation these routes offer in Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin is filled with unexpected memories waiting to be discovered at every turn and these three scenic routes show off some of the best of what Wisconsin has to offer,” said Acting Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Anne Sayers. “As more travelers hit the road this year, we look forward to this well-deserved national recognition inspiring road-trippers from near and far to take in Wisconsin’s natural beauty and stretch their legs at the many restaurants, shops and recreation areas along the way.”

The designated routes are:

  • Wisconsin Great River Road (All American Road) — covers 250 miles in Wisconsin and passes through 33 river towns along WIS 35. It had been Wisconsin’s only National Scenic Byway and was often called “the best drive in the Midwest.” The route connects to 10 other state routes as it follows the Mississippi River from its headwaters to its mouth.
  • Wisconsin’s Lake Superior Scenic Byway (National Scenic Byway) — follows 70 miles of WIS 13 along the southern shore of Lake Superior along the Bayfield Peninsula through quaint harbor towns and historic fishing villages, near dozens of orchards and fruit farms, along miles of sand beach and the home of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Densely forested lands provide a spectacular backdrop to the year ‘round recreational opportunities that abound with hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, snowmobile, ATV and cross-county ski trails.
  • Door County’s Coastal Byway (National Scenic Byway) — stretches over 66 miles along WIS 57 and 42 from Sturgeon Bay to the tip of the peninsula and back. The route offers scenic vistas of Lake Michigan, the Niagara Escarpment bluffs, dense forests, agricultural lands and quaint shore-side towns and villages.

The National Scenic Byways Program is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. Established in 1991 and reauthorized and expanded significantly in 1998, the program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States.

IN PHOTOS: Tundra swans migrate down the Mississippi

In this Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, photo the Rev. James Coleman, 70, finishes receiving his first COVID-19 vaccination by nurse practitioner Ifreke Udodong, at United Medical Center in southeast Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Aquinas senior Fiona O'Flaherty goes up for a shot during Thursday's WIAA Division 3 sectional semifinal at the Reinhart Athletic Complex.