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Episode 6 - MMSD’s Mental Health Director Dr. Kristen Guetschow joins Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins
Episode 615th December 2022 • Lead to Liberate • Madison Metropolitian School District
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MMSD’s Mental Health Director Dr. Kristen Guetschow shares how schools are supporting students’ social-emotional and mental health as we emerge from the pandemic. She talks about re-establishing stability, Dr. Jenkins shares how a scholar taught him breathing techniques, and together they discuss how programs such as Bounce Back and Care Solace are helping our students, families, and staff thrive.


Kristen Guetschow Audio File



students, families, challenges, community, staff, pandemic, mental health, bouncing, district, support, superintendents, lead, continue, skills, manage, child, real, programs, important, stability

DESCRIPTION: In this episode, MMSD’s Mental Health Director Dr. Kristen Guetschow shares how schools are supporting students’ social-emotional and mental health as we emerge from the pandemic. She talks about re-establishing stability, Dr. Jenkins shares how a scholar taught him breathing techniques, and together they discuss how programs such as Bounce Back and Care Solace are helping our students, families, and staff thrive.

00:12 Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Hello, and welcome to Lead to Liberate. How about that music? I love that music. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, and I am your podcast host. Yes, the Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District, one of the finest school districts in the country, here on Lead to Liberate. What we do, we go behind the scenes with some of our employees. And they actually tell you how they are leading to liberate. Today's guest, is just like the guest of the past: She has a lot to say. During the pandemic, over the last 30 months, she's been at the forefront, very much back behind the scene, but very much holding us together. I'm telling you, as we've all had our different shares of challenges, she's been right there. Yes. The one and only Dr. Kristen Guetschow. So, Dr. Guetschow. How are you today?

00:59: Dr. Kristen Guetschow: I'm great. Thanks for the invitation to be here today. I really appreciate it.

01:02: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, glad to have you here. And given all that you've been doing over the last 30 months. And I know for us, it's been kind of like, a little shaky, but everyone expects you -- because you've been holding everybody together [laughter]. How are you? Okay, how are you? Really?

01:15: Dr. Guetschow: You know, I'm definitely doing okay. I think that we're in a space where we're coming through some really rough times as individuals and as a district. And I think that every day, I'm seeing signs of stability, and hope, and moving forward. And that is just what brings me, the um, I think when any of us have hope that's going to help us move forward and figure out what comes next. And this is just a great time to feel where we can see those seeds really have been planted and starting to come to fruition.

01:47: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah. And I tell you, Dr. Guetschow, behind the scenes -- like you've been through multiple superintendents, right now? Over these last 30 months, I think we could probably say we've had three superintendents, right? At least three superintendents last 30 months, and you've seen other leadership changes. The pandemic? So many things that we've talked about internationally, right? [Mmhmm.] What's happening with our students, with our staff, with our families, what have been some of those things that you pushed in on to lead to liberate, to ensure that we get some sense of stability [mmhmm] amongst our students, our staff, and our families to be able to help them make it through these challenging times?

02:24: Dr. Guetschow: I think one of the things that we've done really early on was to recognize that there were mental health challenges that were associated with the physical health challenges. And I think, Dr. Jenkins, you were a key advocate and cheerleader for talking about the whole child from the very beginning. And I think that because of that, we've been able to have conversations about what our students, and our staff, and our families need. As a community, what we need to figure out how to bring that stability back from a time that was just unprecedented in multiple ways, right? We know that we were dealing with physical health challenges. But we also know there are other pandemics, where we were bringing to light, the challenges that our students, and staff, and other family, other community members experienced through discrimination, through health inequities. And we really need to grapple with that in the ongoing fashion in order to figure out how to continue emerging from this time.

03:22: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, you're exactly right. And you happen to sit on the Metrics team, our medical metrics team. Well, we are not only just talking about the social justice issues [mmhmm] that were going on during the time, but we were also talking about vaccinations hesitancy, and we’re trying to just balance it, because it wasn't that people just didn't want to take the vaccinations. Right? And what how did you help manage that? And what were you hearing, to best position us as a district to keep moving forward?

03:50: Dr. Guetschow: So I think one of the things that we just really talked about early on as a district is that, you know, we know some things to help us get through. Even though we've never been through a pandemic, we've certainly know what it means to create stability for students or families who are going through traumatic experiences, right? [Mmhmm] So we knew that communication was important. We knew that hope was important. We knew that relationships were and are important. We know that we need our students to have a sense of hope and a future. So we knew that there were elements that needed to be part of what we were thinking about were key to move forward through this challenging time. And we had to do it together. So while each of us experienced the last 30 months in a different way, in some ways, it was a universal experience. But it all affected us very differently. And we have to recognize that we need to take care of all of us to make sure that we're all moving forward to make sure that our students are becoming those amazing scholars that we know they can be.

04:46: Dr. Jenkins: Right exactly. I tell you even though this is the pandemic, and we had so many losses, so many lives lost, this is one of my proudest moments as an educator. As I saw us come together now as a school, but as a community. And really truly, you know, as a country, in the world, and say, ‘Hey, we have to lean in together,’ [mmhmm]. And but now, doing this in a virtual space, you know? And so, were there other things created, so that students or staff, how do we pour into protecting the mental health? Because during these times, isolation really began to set in all of us. I'm telling you, I am just as guilty, I was impacted, didn't realize how much I needed to be with staff, students, and the community. So what are things that you do to try to address that?

05:33: Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, we really recognized early on that our, we had an opportunity to really lead with the social-emotional learning, and universal supports that all of our students needed. So our teachers, our student services staff, did an amazing job of really thinking about how do we make sure we're teaching math and we're teaching coping skills, right? [Mmhmm] That's been a MMSD strategy for a long time. And we were able to translate that virtually. And now, of course, as we come back into our community. And first and foremost, as we come back, how do we build and rebuild that community, you know, those relationships are key. [mmhmm] And we know that, we just did, have the whole child thrive, we need to make sure that they're in a place of safety, where they see themselves, they see that they are loved and cared for and seen, for everything that they are, the strengths and the challenges that they bring day to day, and that tomorrow's a new day. And that we continue to build our community, through those relationships, through that community. And then our, our children, and our families, and our staff thrive that way, too. We know that it wasn't just our children who were struggling, the adults were as well.

06:39: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah. And that's something I appreciate you always keep the adults in it as well. And something that we've all had to learn. It's not just our students, it's the adults. They're healthy, they can take care of our students. And as you mentioned, we're emerging now, out of the pandemic, but we still have some characteristics from a mental standpoint that we're all trying to address. We have a program, bouncing back? [laughter] Talk, talk to me a little bit about bouncing back, because now as I’m out at the schools, and I get that language from the students. [Yep, yep, that’s right.] . So what are they talking about, the elementary students know about bouncing back. What's this going on?

07:14: Dr. Guetschow: Oh, yeah. So we, we have a number of different initiatives through our elementary, middle, and high schools, where we do universal screening for trauma exposure and symptoms, and Bounce Back is one of them. [OK] And so we really find out from our teachers, where they might find some students that they're feeling worried about. And also we ask them about what their strengths are, right? So for all, it's mostly third graders, we say, you know, how are things going for your classroom? And where are some places of challenge? And where are some places of strength? And then some of our students who are needing something a little bit extra, we have a 10 week bounce back group that we co-lead with therapists from the community with our student services team members, and students learn all kinds of coping skills that they love. The adults who are teaching it love. And like you said, very often, they'll come out into the school environment and say, you know, use some of these strengths or use some of these skills, and let people know that they're, you know, teaching, teaching someone coming in there, their new breathing technique, right?

08:17: Dr. Jenkins: Right! That’s what I was learning with the kids! Right, yeah, yeah.

08:21: Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, you know, so this is, this is how you do, you know, this type of breathing, you know, this is a volcano breath, you know, all kinds of all the ways [All of that] Exactly. So this is one of the places that bring me a lot of hope -- is that we are teaching our students skills that they are applying young, and then they're teaching the grown-ups in their lives how to use these skills. And I really think that, you know, for all the challenges that are out there, our, our students are coming up with more in their back pocket for tools in their toolkit to manage whatever comes next. Right? We don't know what the next stressful events going to be in anyone's individual life, in our community, in our society. But I really believe that our kids are resilient. They've been taught some skills, they've been applying these skills. And that gives me a lot of excitement about how they're going to be able to kind of become their best beings moving forward.

09:13: Dr. Jeknins: Well, I really want to thank you for the bouncing back because a student really helped me. [laughter] After we were going through tough negotiations, I'm in a building, and I see one of our scholars in the hall, and I'm asking what he's doing. And he was telling me about these breathing techniques. [laughter] I said, ‘Where did you get this from?’ So he said, ‘This is what we're learning.’ So he started to show me [Yeah]. And I told him that, you know, I know it, because I go through some of these stresses, we were just finishing negotiations. Now I'm talking to a third grader, right? And he’s ‘Oh! You could do it as well. This is all you have to do.’ And I just started laughing. That's okay. I have to get into the Bounce Back program.

09:43: Dr. G: That’s right. We have to, we have to know where we find our teachers in life. And often it’s them.

09:48: Dr. Jenkins: So I'm hoping when he graduates I can hire him right here in the district someday in the future, you know. [laughter] But I tell you, it's been a lot though. Because not only have the students with their social-emotional and mental health. Staff, as you said. But then our families, and then we have a lot of multi-generational families within our community. So we stayed out longer with virtual, and then coming back and we're still seeing residuals. And…But we do see the excitement of being back in person now. People want to be back, but we have to kind of help them. What are we doing in our schools? And how do students know how they can reach out to someone? How would…I'm a parent? [Yeah] My child is not successful right now. For whatever reason, or I don't even want to say successful, they’re just having challenges communicating. Who do we reach to? How do we reach to them? What are the programs that we may have?

10:38: Dr. Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, I'm thrilled you asked that question, because I get a chance to promote our amazing student services staff [mmhmm]. We have highly-trained mental health professionals in each of our schools. We have school psychologists, school social workers, school counselors, our nurses, and, and you know, all the interactions that our teachers and others have every day. We've got lots of people that are there to support our kids as a whole child, right? Not just to learn reading, although that’s important, is to make sure that they've got all the skills they need to be successful in life. And I would really say that families should start with who they have a relationship with. It could be the teacher, it could be calling the school and asking for an opportunity to talk to the school psychologist or school social worker, and really expressing you know, where your concerns are. Really getting a chance to hear where your child's thriving, but also, like, to problem solve together, because you are the expert of your child, as a parent, and we have some expertise that we can, like, walk alongside you with. And I really think that that combination together, you just can't beat - between the expertise of the parent and the expertise of the school, I really think that amazing things can happen.

And then they can really help navigate what the next things are. So it might be that there's something right in school that can get a support, because we have lots of programs, and partnerships with outside community agencies. And also, there's, there's lots of other places that we can, can get connected with for support. For example, we just contracted with an agency called Care Solace, [mmhmm] and we'll put the link on the podcast page. So Care Solace is a great program that we have that can really support our families, our students, their families, staff and their families to really manage the complexities of navigating mental health in the community. We know that it takes multiple phone calls to find a right therapist or right support out in the community. And it's just an opportunity that families or staff folks or students can look to navigate mental health resources within their webpage, but also to talk to a live, real live person to help make some of those phone calls and help get connected to resources in the community. So we just know that, that managing your family's health and mental health care can be a real challenge. And it's just one more resource that we have available to staff and families.

12:58: Dr. Jeknins: Wow, that's awesome. I tell you going through these times, we know that our most marginalized families, our families who are multi generational, we know the impact, the real impact on black and brown families, our families with students with special needs. It's real. [mmhmm] So what I often hear from families, how do we connect? And how do we get therapists -- individuals who perhaps look like us – is, what are we doing in MMSD? You know, that's, that's a real deal in relationships. [It is] So what do we have?

13:32: Dr. Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, it's a real deal. So, a couple things. One is just recognizing that it is a real deal, right, of naming that. The second is, we're continuing to work with our community partners, right? So some of this was something that we can work on within MMSD, and some of it is, you know, how do we work on it as a whole community. And even beyond that, this is a national issue. We are applying for some grants that really work to diversify our staff. And so that is part of our long-term planning with some grow your own projects. And we also are doing, there's some small but important things. Like, we've hired a Spanish-speaking Mental Health Navigator. So we’ve got someone that can support families in managing those mental health navigation needs out in the community and getting them connected to resources, so that language isn't a barrier. We hired a mental health BRS, so a bilingual resource specialist, who can really support in taking down all the language barriers that exist around accessing mental health resources. So small but important pieces that we're doing, both in our some of our programs in expanding, as well as really looking to diversify our staff. And then it just really we need to continue to grapple with this as a community, as a nation, that we have a real shortage of mental health professionals nationwide, and we really need to target diversifying our mental health professionals as we go. And families should be really comfortable, really continuing to look for resources that feel comfortable to them, right? You're not going to benefit if you don't feel like it's the right match. And so to keep looking until you find the right person for you and your family, either at school or in the community.

15:21: Dr. Jenkins: Yes, that's real talk, for real people. Because as we're trying to lead to liberate, we want to make sure that voice is important. We want to make sure that belonging, part of our core values are there. And I'm just very proud of some of the work that we'll continue to do in our Student Services area. And I have to say, right here, Dr. Guetschow, she is very humble, and did not know that I was going to say this. But she's well thought of throughout the state, she but because she's so humble, she tries to be quiet about it, but I'm going to brag on you for a moment. Everyone knows that you don't only help in our district, you help others throughout the state, you help with DPI, you do a lot of things like that. How do you manage to keep yourself together with all that's on your plate? [laughter]

16:10 Dr. Dr. Guetschow: Oh, my gosh, well, that, you know, this is like, talking about the personal is a lot harder than talking…

16:18 Dr. Jeknins: Yes, it is, see. [laughter]. She could talk about everyone else. She was doing fine. Did you hear that? Did you just see that? That's why I had to bring it out here. [that’s right]. She will not talk about herself.

16:28: Dr. Guetschow: Well, I practice what I preach, I surround myself with really an amazing team who will keep me humble and keep me motivated and give me hope. And I really, the work that our staff do every single day to support all of our families - and the work that my team does - and when I see what our individual students and families are doing every day, I just know that we have work that is taking hold, and I, it brings me excitement. And I know that tomorrow's a new day and we try again. So I think that it's complex work. But I know that each step we're taking is in taking the step in the right direction that just keep advocating for our students and families. And that keeps me going every day.

17:10: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, well, I really appreciate it. We've had a long history in MMSD of just outstanding individuals in this department. And Kerry Stampfli, one of your close [mmhmm], close [yep] colleagues who had stepped up in the road, and the void, and she's also going to stay with the department here, with the district. What has it been like you two? You've been like tag-teaming, running together? Like, what's that like with you and Kerry Stampfli?

17:40: Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, so I, you know, this, this is my 25th year in the school district. And I would say, you know, that is one of the key strategies that I've had each year -- is that I've there are, you know, multiple other staff people that I learned something from every single day, and Kerry is absolutely one of those folks. [mmhmm, right] So mostly, I just feel so grateful to have someone that we just can sit down and talk about where things are going on in our hearts, and where things are going on in our heads so we can problem solve. And we can have sympathy and empathy for each other as we're figuring out what can be hard things. And you know, also we are MMSD employees, and we're also humans that have families, and other challenges, and, you know. So it's nice to have someone that can be a friend and a colleague, to recognize someone as a whole person. Like we like to look at our students, right to also look at our colleagues that way as well. But yeah, incredibly grateful to have someone who just challenges my thinking. And lets me know if I'm in the right path or if I'm not, because that's what you need and in the world is someone that can, can let you know, the good, and the bad, and the ugly. [laughter]

18:57 Dr. Jenkins: Well, I tell you Dr. Guetschow, we really do appreciate you being here today. And I'm glad our listeners had an opportunity to hear you, and to also learn the wonderful things we have going on in MMSD. I am looking forward for not only what you're doing now, but what you're going to do in the future, as we continue to try to be one of those districts that's leading to liberate. I thank you so much for your time. And listeners, we thank you for listening in again, Dr. Guetschow.