VOA Alaska has been serving youth at Begich Middle School since January 2015. As an embedded part of the Anchorage School Based Health Center at Begich, VOA’s clinical team has become a valued resource for students, teachers, counselors, and administrators who benefit from the expertise and support our clinicians provide. In the six school years we have been integrated within the school, our clinicians have provided over 1,900 sessions.
Participating students report they feel better about themselves, are able to better identify and manage their feelings, have better problem-solving skills, and improved relationships with family and peers. Parents of participating students have reported seeing improvements in the home and feel the support has helped their student’s academic performance.
Upon reflecting on the impact of her work and role, VOA’s school-based mental health clinician at Begich highlighted the integrated role of mental health in the broader school environment and how important it is to build rapport before the first session even occurs. She shared, “I engaged a student before he was referred for services, so when he was referred to me, I already had knowledge of who he was and he of me.”
A few success stories that stood out for the clinician include two 7th graders who both received services the prior school year. Their parents have noticed and remarked upon their significantly improved grades.
Another 7th grader who received sponsored tuition for a summer martial arts camp has become a black belt competitor, a great physical and mental wellness activity for this youth.
Empowering the students at Begich and supporting them through the highs and lows of life is an honor and a privilege for VOA’s clinician. With state survey data showing the percentage of students feeling sad or hopeless, and considering, planning for, and attempting suicide on the rise, she believes, “This service at Begich provides a safe place for students to come when they are self-harming, experiencing suicidal ideation, and to get a break from being bullied (or from perceived bullying behavior of peers).”
Creating a safe space for healing is what we do, but it will take all of us working together to truly support youth who are struggling today. During the 2019-2020 school year, support from community partners, like the Mason’s Lodge, made it possible to provide 266 sessions to students at Begich Middle School. These sessions began in-person and quickly shifted to online delivery via Zoom when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Anchorage.