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Midvale Journal

Wellness services at Entrada Adult High make a difference in students’ lives and academics

Jun 04, 2024 12:01PM ● By Julie Slama

At Entrada Adult High School, wellness services are offered to support in the success of students. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

When Samantha Ferrell-Schweppenstedde was hired in August as a student advocate at Entrada Adult High School, she imagined she’d be helping adult students with their academic schedules and coursework.

Entrada has educational programs specifically designed to meet the needs of adult learners so they can earn a high school diploma, prepare for the GED test, or even improve their skills in math, reading and writing.

Academic counseling and intervention, she discovered, wasn’t what was always needed.

“When students missed classes, I reached out to them asking if there was anything I could support them with,” she said. “What I heard over and over it wasn’t a lack of motivation to be at school, but it was difficult situations that they were dealing with that got in the way of be able to attend school,” Ferrell-Schweppenstedde said. “So, we’re supporting students to overcome those barriers so that they can focus on their education.”

Since January, Entrada has provided a three-tier wellness program for its 500 students that combines classes with mental health services, thanks to a one-time $22,000 supplemental grant from adult education department at the Utah State Board of Education.

“We’re seeing many of our students coming from and facing adverse experiences like economic hardship, domestic violence and sexual violence; there are a lot of traumatic things going on in people’s lives. That’s the reason why many students initially dropped out of high school. Even coming back to adult ed, they’re still dealing with a lot of tough circumstances and trauma that those circumstances caused,” Ferrell-Schweppenstedde said.

The first tier of the program begins with students enrolling in a positive psychology class.

“This is a beloved class that focuses on learning how to build resilience and self-esteem, and why it is important; that’s really helpful for our students, given the backgrounds that they were coming from. It also looks at their strengths and how they can build upon those rather than focusing on the negative things,” she said, adding that Entrada is the only high school for adult ed in Utah that offers the course.

It’s taught by Steve Wrigley, a former school board member who has a degree in rehabilitation counseling.

“Basically, the goal is to have the students be able to take control of their life and learn a little bit about themselves,” said Wrigley, who has taught the course six times. “We talk about the psychology of happiness and do personality assessments. We talk about character strengths, gratitude, mindset, grit, resilience, and developing habits. They’re wanting to learn their values and their unique talents, and how to go about having a positive mindset.”

Building off that class, students can take a course taught by social worker Jesus Moreno, who also teaches at Diamond Ridge High; the class focuses on social and emotional learning. He’s taught district teachers skills they can use to support their students, particularly around behavior issues, Ferrell-Schweppenstedde said.

“The positive psychology class is a little bit more theoretical, where the social and emotional learning course is a skill-building class. They can look at ‘how do we put some of this into practice?’ For example, students may have anger management issues or they’re facing a lot of hardship. This class helps them learn how skills to deal with that,” she said.

The class also explores more complicated emotions and situations people find themselves in, Ferrell-Schweppenstedde said.

“It’s not necessarily looking at the individual level, but it takes a broader picture. For example, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel you’re being treated unfairly and you’re getting angry, it can have negative impacts on relationships. This course can offer some skills or tools to help you manage that situation and using those skills in different settings to have healthy relationships,” she said.

Both classes are worth one-quarter credit, either health or an elective, of the 24 credits Entrada students need to graduate. 

The last tier is counseling. 

With the grant, Entrada offers small group and individual therapy. Currently a school therapist and social worker work part-time for Entrada, both coming to the school through a district partnership with Hopeful Beginnings, a local non-profit who focuses on mental health services.

“The therapy comes from a high need we were identifying,” Ferrell-Schweppenstedde said. “Some of our students don’t have insurance, so they didn’t really have any opportunity to access therapy without this support.” 

She said while they realized there was a need, “we really weren’t sure kind of what the uptake would be. After the therapist introducing herself to classes, she had a full caseload almost immediately and she has a waitlist. We were blown away at how quickly students took advantage of these services.”

The grant’s funding pays for the therapist to see 16 students for an hour per session for six sessions. Twenty students are on the waitlist.

“To access the therapy, students first have a conversation with me as the student advocate or with a therapist directly to ensure this is a good fit,” she said, adding that they are finding other low-cost counseling and therapy services in the community for students.

While there is no requirement to do one tier before accessing another, Ferrell-Schweppenstedde said that many students find it beneficial to do so. Entrada students can take advantage of the mental health services until end of school in June when the grant expires.

Entrada Adult Education Program Manager Mark Mataya said the funds were “offered to us to develop a program to see if we could fold these services into our base funding in the future. We are using this grant opportunity to establish services, identify needs, and to see how much these services will cost while also finding out how much of the services can be offset through student health insurance.”

While Mataya is uncertain what the program will look like next year, he knows continued support will be offered.

“After seeing the extremely high demand for mental health services with our students, we will be continuing this project in one way or another next school year,” Mataya said. “While I think that most realize that mental health services are in dire need in our schools, we are finding that the specific at-risk population that we serve, the services are in even greater need. Unfortunately funding for these types of services are often not meeting the needs.”

Ferrell-Schweppenstedde hopes the wellness services will continue as well.

“This has been a pilot program and we’re hoping it can serve as a model for adult education across the state,” she said. “We’re finding that if support is there, students are wanting to engage with it. I believe that not only is it going to help students be able to graduate high school, but it will help them in all areas of their lives and make a world of difference.” λ