Helping to solve
Catholic Charities is working with interested schools
to improve setting
By Jean Sweetland
A 10-year-old girl stands alone on the playground at recess. It is evident that she is miserable. Groups of children play nearby. Talk in one group of girls centers on how awful the girl's clothing is and how they wouldn't dream of inviting her to their birthday party. They make it obvious that they think she is despicable. Other children on the playground believe they would be shunned if they associated with the girl.
This scene is familiar to teachers and to counselors.
To address such situations, Catholic Charities is developing collaborative relationships with schools and religious education programs throughout the diocese. The process began about four years ago by listening to what principals and school board members thought would enhance their programs.
They had concerns about an increase in aggressive and impulsive behaviors, such as bullying, students failing to take responsibility for behaviors or for their lapses of judgment, the exclusion of certain children from work groups and social contacts, and other disruptive behaviors. Some concerns centered around children who come to school with family problems on their mind. Several children lacked basic social skills. Occasionally, they noted, there is a crisis that requires consulting with a specialist in mental health or family relational problems.
In the early stages of developing a response to schools' needs, Catholic Charities provided speakers to do education and prevention, and to consult with the faculty when there were concerns about the emotional or behavioral functioning of a student. Those efforts continue.
Several schools have asked for speakers to talk to children, their parents or the faculty. Topics include bullying, respectful behaviors, tolerance of others, building friendships, and anxiety and depression. The agency also has fielded questions on specific concerns about the needs of a child or chil-dren. Families have found that a referral to counseling was the incentive they needed to address some challenges they faced.
In addition, the Student Assistance Program places a person on site at schools part time to do prevention and education. The Program is individualized to address the needs of each school. Some schools wish an emphasis in educational programs to reduce violence. The focus may be to develop empathic responses to others, impulse control and anger management. Another school may request that particular problems among groups of children be assessed and addressed with specific group interventions and that some children be seen individually for assessment. Other educational group offerings build social skills, or deal with loss and grief.
Student Assistance Programs are in place at Holy Family School in Green Bay, St. John the Baptist School in Howard, Holy Rosary School in Kewaunee and Our Lady of Lourdes School in De Pere.
Catholic Charities is developing a Critical Incident Response Team to enhance its ability to respond to traumatic incidents at schools. Should the need arise, Catholic Charities will be better prepared to help reduce the effects of traumatic incidents.
Because of the limited resources of both the schools and Catholic Charities, the collaborative efforts have been modest with careful attention to need. The program is expected to grow as the organizations put heads and hearts together to benefit their parish communities.
(Sweetland is a counselor at Catholic Charities, Green Bay.)
For information on services provided by Catholic Charities, write Catholic Charities, P.O. Box 23825, Green Bay 54305-3825. Catholic Charities receives funding from the annual Bishop's Appeal.