BELDING, Mich. — Not too long ago, Belding High School principal Michael Ostrander got a phone call to his office. Someone, only know to Ostrander now, wanted to give a nameless donation to the school’s mental health program.
“It was pretty overwhelming,” he said. “They wanted to do a three-year commitment, and that donation was going to be $10,000 a year. So $30,000.”
Ostrander, surprised but gracious, accepted the offer and thought that was the end of it. Then, the phone rang again.
“Not long after I got another phone call that there was second donor who wanted to make the same donation,” he said. “So you know, we were at $60,000 through one meeting, and in a matter of about an hour.”
The school won’t be starting from scratch. They had already established a robust mental health outreach program at the high school thanks to grant money. Much of that fell apart when COVID restricted student’s attendance in-person.
The school’s Be Well program helps get resources out to students and teaches them and staff the easy-to-miss signs of distress. The school’s Be Nice program – a branch of the statewide organization with the same name – does much the same. Through that group, the school has set up a listening room with a counselor to be available to students to listen and help right on site.
In addition, the school has replaced detentions with stays in the PASS room (positive alternative to school suspension) and are encouraging ‘wellness weekends’ where teachers don’t assign homework so students can spend time with family and friends.
“When a student is having trouble in the classroom, it's not just because they want to be disruptive, there's probably an underlying issue,” said Ostrander. “What is that? How can we help them repair whatever damage is going on? And how can we get them to return to the classroom as safely and as soon as possible?”