Look out, 6th grade! Marquan is about to start a new school year in good physical and mental shape. He loves basketball and football and you’ll often see him in the halls with a ball in his hand.
But the start of 5th grade was unfortunately much different for Marquan. During the summer of 2022, he witnessed a shooting right outside his house, with bullets piercing the walls of his bedroom.
Those bullets shattered a ceiling fan along with Marquan’s sense of security inside his own home.
“For a while he wouldn’t sleep by himself,” said Esther, Marquan’s grandmother. “He was fearful, and I didn’t want him to live in fear.”
Esther saw the toll it was taking on Marquan she knew he needed to talk to someone about the trauma he had experienced.
“I was worried if he didn’t get these feelings out, it would be like baggage he’s carrying around later in life,” said Esther. “And I want him to be free.”
She knew there was a therapist at Marquan’s school, Knapp Elementary in Racine. Esther reached out to the principal, and within a week he was seeing Kristine Jacobs, LCSW, a Children’s Wisconsin child and family therapist who works year-round at the school, even during summer break.
“I started seeing Marquan once a week before the school year even started,” Kristine said. “I love being able to see kids at school, they’re in their element here. I feel like I get to know their personalities really well, and it helps me understand them a bit better.”
Knapp Elementary is one of 53 schools where Children’s Wisconsin has a full-time therapist available for kids’ mental and behavioral health needs. It’s part of their mission to make mental health care more accessible to Wisconsin children, whenever and wherever they need it. Having this resource at school reduces barriers like missed classroom time, lack of transportation and long waitlists that may keep some families from getting the support they need. Therapists can help kids manage the daily stresses of school, like exams and getting organized. They can also help with more serious concerns, like depression, anxiety or, in Marquan’s case, how to cope with the trauma from gun violence.
“It was so helpful to have this resource available to him at school,” said Esther “He could see her at least once a week, and I didn’t have to run him around to a bunch of doctor’s offices.”
The Children’s Wisconsin school-based therapists also provide trainings to teachers and staff to help them manage behavioral issues that may come up in the classroom. Research shows that having therapists in schools helps reduce the stigma around mental health and kids use the services more often.
Marquan said he felt no stigma or judgment by his peers for seeing a therapist. “No one cares,” he said, while tossing a small basketball into the air.
“We talk a lot while he’s playing with a ball,” said Kristine, smiling at Marquan. “He came a long way this school year, matured a lot. I’m proud of the work he’s done.”
And Esther is grateful for the work Kristine has done to help ensure this school year is off to a much better start. “She’s given him coping skills to express himself,” said Esther. “I appreciate Kristine very much.”