Howard-Suamico school board holds linkage with civic and clergy leaders
By Ben Rodgers
HOWARD – Civic and clergy leaders came together on Monday, Oct. 7, to discuss maximizing resources for students in the Howard-Suamico School District.
Discussion at this year’s linkage focused on meeting the needs of many, because last year’s linkage was centered around meeting the needs of the most vulnerable.
“For us as a district and community, what resources are out there that would support our students and staff in a way we feel is effective in helping them enhance their emotional and social learning?” asked Angela Buchenauer, associate director of Student Services.
Buchenauer went on to say 50 percent of district students in grades 6-12 say they are suffering from some sort of anxiety.
Civic and clergy leaders then formed into groups for the linkage with district staff and school board members to discuss those problems.
“I asked the kids what was on their minds and the No. 1 thing was anxiety,” said Niki Petit, a youth group leader at Suamico United Methodist Church. “But, a lot of youth feel like they can’t ever escape school now with the connection of social media.”
Petit’s son, Lucien, a Bay Port graduate and freshman at the University of Nebraska, echoed those concerns to his mother.
“He said because information is so readily accessible, it contributes to the anxiety, because you just got information at your fingertips all the time – you don’t know if it’s credible,” she said. “It’s really crushing for my son at least.”
Social media also plays a role in the anxiety of youth, said Joanna Klysen, licensed professional counselor at Foundations Health & Wholeness.
“There’s this pressure to be sensational to matter,” Klysen said. “You have to go over the top to make millions of dollars.”
Andrew Mulloy, principal at St. John’s The Baptist School, said a major problem is parents overcommitting their children.
“How many different things are going on in their lives?” Mulloy said. “At a middle school soccer game, two parents pulled their kids at halftime to go to another sports practice.”
Student representative on the school board Sahra Ahmed said it’s not difficult to see problems weighing students down at Bay Port.
“I feel like even when I go to the high school there’s kids I see walking with their heads down,” Ahmed said. “No one knows about their problems. They may have depression, they may be sad, I feel there’s problems with mental health and anxiety.”
The problem of student anxiety also affects educators, said Bobbi Nowaczyk, a district social worker.
She said teachers are tasked with being the go-to for many students experiencing a variety of issues.
However, they don’t have the professional qualifications to help with these issues as more and more gets put on the plates of students, Nowaczyk said.
“Staff, you need to make sure you’re taking time for yourself and doing your own self-checks,” she said.
Help is available to those who ask for it
For families in the district, Nowaczyk said resources are there.
But how to connect families to them was the ultimate question Monday.
Nowaczyk said she has dealt with a family who refused help from The Giving Tree food pantry.
They told her there are others worse off than themselves.
“Those stages of denial are full-blown in any family, whatever your socio-economic status,” Nowaczyk said.
Mulloy said sometimes the help he provides doesn’t seem like it’s enough.
During the linkage, board vice president Garry Sievert said the district has online links to resources in a prominent place on the district website.
Mark Smith, assistant superintendent of organizational development, also said it may be possible to include parochial school staff in district staff training sessions to share resources.
Even with the resources available, Petit said parents need to be the ones to step up.
“I personally think the biggest issue is the parental units who just don’t want it or don’t care,” she said.
Ahmed said a culture shift is needed for people to realize there is nothing wrong with asking for help, whether students, staff or parents.
“Even though there’s all these resources available, how do you normalize that getting help is OK?” she said.
The district does offer some spiritual guidance to students, should they choose to accept it, Smith said, adding one of the reasons he came to Howard-Suamico was the district’s partnership with faith-based organizations.
“The high school, in particular, really has an opportunity for community agencies and church groups to come in,” Smith said. “We have to be a little careful about how we provide access to them, but Mr. Frieder (Bay Port principal) is an excellent partner. We have church groups that come in during lunch and students can connect with them if they choose.”
For students, Smith said a trusted adult in their school is the best starting point, and these could be teachers or principals.
School social workers are also available to connect families to resources in the district.