The Student Assistance Program doesn’t involve money for school, or extra study time. It focuses on helping students in something other than academics. It’s a network of support groups offered through a school with focuses varying from grief, to substance abuse, anger, and self-esteem, among others. Whitefish School Psychologist Robin Bissell said SAP came to Whitefish four years ago after the high school lost a student to suicide.
“The impetus from that tragic event was administrators, counselors, myself and some teachers sat down and said ‘what are we doing for students that’s beyond academics. How are we supporting them as whole people?” Bissell said the primary goal of SAP is intervention and prevention.
Students will self-refer to SAP at Whitefish. Bissell said she goes into classrooms to talk with students about SAP and hands out a list of the different types of groups which students can opt into. Some groups have specific focuses on issues like grief, drug and alcohol abuse by family members, and teen drug and alcohol use; others cover more general issues, concerns, and worries. Bissell said these groups are not counseling, not therapy, but support.
“This program saves lives, and changes lives, and has the opportunity to have a profound impact on the global school community,” Bissell said.
The Student Assistance Program started in Arizona by Cheryl Watkins nearly 25 years ago. It’s expanded and been picked up in many states, and has gone international. In the Flathead Bissell said Bigfork has used the program, Columbia Falls has some people getting trained this summer, and the Kalispell School District also has individuals trained in the program. There’s a training coming up in the Flathead in August from the 12th through the 14th. For more information, contact Robin Bissell through the Whitefish District office.