Area schools spark conversation on the need for mental health care for students

CHILTON, Wis. "We need to provide access in all ways that we possibly can to reach every student we possibly can," said Ty Breitlow, Chilton High School Principal.

Recent school shootings have opened up a dialogue here in Northeast Wisconsin and all around the country about why access to mental health care for students is so important.

The discussion is happening as Texas mourns the loss of ten people killed at a Houston-area high school. A moment of silence was held for the victims outside of Santa Fe High School. The community gathered around ten wooden crosses bearing the name of the eight students and two teachers killed on Friday.

Police say 17-year-old accused gunman, Dimitrios Pagourtzis yelled “surprise” before opening fire on an art class. Investigators say the student told them he “acted alone” and wanted “his story told.”

Now students and administrators in the area are making sure students aren't afraid to open up. Students and administrators got colorful hairdos at Chilton High School for the 'One Million Mohawk Challenge' by 'Rise Together,' an organization empowering youth to speak up.

"A lot of people with mental health feel that they stand out in a way that they really don't want to stand out in, they feel kind of singled out, and so by doing our hair in wacky fun colors we're kind of just standing in solidarity of people who feel alone, just to let them know that they're not alone," said Sophie Brandt, a sophomore at Chilton High School.

The hair challenge isn’t the only thing the district is doing to stay proactive. The Chilton School District applied for the 'School-Based Mental Health Services Grant' by Wisconsin's Department Of Public Instruction, providing schools with funding to partner with community mental health providers and agencies for the next school year.

"There are a lot of students throughout our school and across the nation that really struggle with mental health and don't speak out about it enough and then it just goes to an extreme where they take irreversible consequences. It really breaks my heart to see all these kids that are suffering because of this and the problems that we could address by just addressing mental health and getting these kids the help they need," said Brandt.

Chilton High School Principal, Ty Breitlow says now more than ever students are ‘self-aware.’

"There's so much access to knowledge about symptoms and things that they're dealing with that they're more able to recognize that they are struggling, and there's good and bad points to that but we need to provide access in all ways that we possibly can to reach every student we possibly can," Breitlow said.

Breitlow says he's doing everything and anything to make sure mental health resources are available at Chilton High School, to him it's personal, in 1993 Breitlow's family was impacted by a school shooter.

"December 1st, 1993, my father was an associate principal at Wauwatosa West High School and there was a young man who struggled with mental health and my father was the victim of that man's rage and anger and underlying issues that possibly weren't addressed and more likely not resolved," said Breitlow, who was in seventh grade at the time of the shooting.

Districts have until the end of the May to submit their 'School-Based Mental Health Services Grant' applications.

"It can help prevent some of the things that we're seeing that are so tragic within the school system across the country. I know there's underlying issues that need to be addressed, adverse childhood experiences for example and also things that are related to trauma, and to be able to support those individuals in need or those students in crisis is now more than ever important," said Anthony Alvarado, president and co-founder of Rise Together.