Prairie View Summer Program Teaches Kids Social, Coping Skills

July 17, 2020

NEWTON, Kan. (July 17, 2020) – For the past 16 years, Melissa Bretches has watched children transform before her eyes. Bretches is a community support worker at Prairie View’s McPherson office and works with children and adolescents in the Summer Intensive Rehabilitation Program (SIRP). 

SIRP serves clients ages 4-21 who meet Serious Emotional Disturbed (SED) criteria, is in Prairie View’s Community Based Services program, and whose clinician determines if the youth is eligible to participate. The program is offered at various locations in Harvey, Marion and McPherson counties. This year’s program wraps up July 23.

“I see so many positive changes, especially when a client gets that ‘aha’ moment that betters them as a member of the group, and he or she is able to use social skills to interact with peers appropriately after they have practiced those skills,” says Bretches. “I also see clients try an activity out of their comfort zone and accomplish it. That is often a proud moment for them and staff.”

Jennifer Schreiner, BCBA. LMLP, Autism Specialist, IIS, serves as director of Community Based Services and has been involved with the program for nine years. 

“The program is a group-based program so all patients are placed in specific topic-focused groups based on their needs,” says Schreiner. “We offer groups for all ages and difficulties, from preschool-aged groups to groups focused on individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We offer a wide variety to serve our patient’s needs.”

Youth in Harvey County this summer learned about movement and mindfulness and were taught cooperative play and conflict resolution skills. Depending on age, clients learned independent living skills, how to manage emotions and settle differences with others, impulse control, team building, creative expression and sportsmanship.

Youth in Marion County learned social skills for promoting positive interactions in school, home and community, mindfulness and stress management, team building, emotional intelligence, recognizing anger and building positive self-concepts, exercise, calming skills and living skills. 

McPherson County participants utilized physical exercise activities such as yoga, circuit training and other sporting activities, mood management techniques and other techniques to help teach social skills. Other groups taught how to build self-esteem with affirmations and positive self-talk, how to think outside the box, work together and manage frustrations, mindfulness, emotional regulations, healthy living habits and hygiene, and how to be a respectful part of society by learning about responsibility, honesty, positive choices, conflict resolution and anger management.

Schreiner explains how the youth and families benefit from the program: “The patients benefit from learning techniques they can use for different skills or interventions in a group setting. The patients also get to practice using different social skills and coping skills and learn how others respond to them when they use them. The groups also work to build self-esteem as patients use their skills and boost confidence in themselves. The families benefit from the child(ren) attending the program to learn skills that they can use at home. The families also benefit in knowing that their child(ren) are learning techniques that will help them with their mental health.”

For Hannah Klaassen, a first-year community support worker in Marion County, SIRP allows her to get real-world experience in the field of mental health. Klaassen served as Miss Kansas 2018 and used her platform to raise awareness for mental health. Working in the program was also an eye-opening experience for her.

“This program is impacting the way I view children and their mental health. I have learned that there are no ‘bad’ kids, only negative behaviors that we work to overcome with proper coping skills, mindfulness and emotional regulation,” she says. “These kids just want to be loved, heard and supported, and SIRP gives them that in a safe and fun environment.”

Klaassen also says she’s learned children’s mental health is vital to their physical, emotional and social health, and helping a child feel safe and important is one of the best first steps to improving behavior and promoting healing.

“SIRP is so important as it offers a place for kids to have fun and feel safe while learning how to cope and deal with negative experiences and emotions at the same time,” says Klaassen. “They get to run around, play, interact with people their own age, talk to an adult about the good/bad/ugly parts of life, and they even get fed and learn proper hygiene. SIRP is such a positive experience for both the kids and the workers, and we build amazing relationships with each other.”

For information about Prairie View’s Community Based Services program for children and adolescents in Harvey, Marion and McPherson counties, call 800-992-6292.