Student Support Liaisons Encourage Positive Social-Emotional Learning and Growth in Local School Districts

January 13, 2021

NEWTON, Kan. (January 13, 2021) – As people all over the world experience higher levels of stress and anxiety, Prairie View and two local school districts are addressing the issue head-on.

Hillsboro USD 410 and Smoky Valley USD 400 have each welcomed a student support liaison into their buildings to help support students’ social-emotional learning and growth. The liaisons are community case managers employed by Prairie View.

Jill Hudson works with students of all ages throughout the Hillsboro school district. Benjamin Wiens provides support to Smoky Valley middle school and high school students. Both provide whatever support is needed to meet the students’ needs, whether it’s in a classroom setting or during one-to-one sessions outside of the classroom.

“Our goal is to be able to improve cognitive and emotional functioning so as to increase opportunities of success through building skill sets and tools the student can learn, practice and utilize in the school, home and community environments,” says Hudson. “We teach, model and support building the student’s ability to identify and express feelings in a safe and appropriate manner.”

This may include teaching students how to recognize body sensations when emotionally charged, using words to express emotions and thoughts rather than negative and unhealthy behaviors, and how to use problem-solving skills as well as focusing on choices and being aware of the outcomes from those choices.

For the elementary-aged student, the tools and strategies used to educate and build skills include visual aids, storybooks, social stories, video clips, role playing with puppets, creative expression/art activities, hands-on activities to practice skills with peers, and other various soothing, tactile and calming activities.

For older children and teenagers, Wiens finds himself working with students on mood management, focus and organization, and social skills. Most of his clients meet with him on a weekly basis. The students are removed from the classroom and perform activities that help them reach their treatment goals.

Wiens and Hudson also work with parents by answering questions and helping them navigate mental health services available to them.

Glen Suppes serves as Smoky Valley USD 400 superintendent. He says many parents are searching for additional help for their children.

“Some parents are unable to locate therapeutic services outside of the school, or for whatever reason, may not be able to get them to their appointments. Providing a support system in school during the school day may be the only avenue we have to reach these kids.”

Max Heinrichs, Hillsboro USD 410 superintendent agrees: “It is never a bad thing when you can add another positive, caring adult into the lives of students.”

Some students just need to be listened to, appreciated for the strengths they do have, and validated. 

According to Hudson, once the student can begin to understand the what and the why of their emotions and actions, they can then begin the how of managing their symptoms, which eventually helps them to improve the academic piece.

Wanting to provide his students with much support as possible, Heinrichs says being able to partner with Prairie View and have a student support liaison in each building is “a huge step in being able to provide that support, as well as starting to change the stigma that accompanies mental health issues and conversations.”

Because the school districts’ primary purpose is to focus on academics, it was important for the two districts to rely on and partner with Prairie View to provide services that focus on students’ social-emotional needs. 

“If our children feel safe and supported, then and only then can they gain confidence and begin to see success in their academic work and their future,” says Suppes. “We know that many of our children struggle with issues that are not being addressed as they should. We only hope that this year we are able to reach out to many of the kids that need us most by identifying them as soon as possible.” 

Heinrichs hopes that by providing students with the tools for their toolbox early on in life, students will be better equipped to self-regulate, cope, ask for help, recognize when others need help and possibly help others as they grow older.

“Mental health affects every part of life and the lives surrounding a person,” says Wiens. “Helping with mental health is one of the most important things to helping people thrive and improving their quality of life.”