PATH: Mental Health Counseling Expands

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Over the last few years, the Harrisburg School District has seen quite a bit of success with its PATH program.

Now it's available in more than 40 schools across KELOLAND.

In 2015, the Sioux Empire United Way and Lutheran Social Services partnered to create PATH.

The program makes mental health counseling available for students kindergarten through 12th grade and their families. 

"PATH has been just a godsend as far as the ability for me to do my job here and reach all learners. I've got 450-460 kids on my caseload, junior kindergarten through 5th grade," Andrea Junker said. 

Junker, school counselor at Freedom Elementary in Harrisburg, says without the program the needs for mental health counseling were tough to meet.

"A lot of times I'd go home and I'd just feel defeated because I couldn't get to every kid and so it's just been amazing," Junker said. 

"Our mental health counselors who are licensed, go to the schools that we provide services at and provide mental health counseling to students there at the school," LSS Director Of Counseling April Bolton said. 

Bolton says the program is a necessity.

"I couldn't always meet the need that they required and a lot of the need that they had sometimes went beyond my scope of my practice too, and so it's just been an amazing, an amazing program for us to have here," Junker said. 

And with PATH, help is available to every child. 

"The barriers that we've really kind of looked at are financial, transportation, parent schedules as far as work, kids schedules because parents have to miss work, kids have to miss school," Junker said. 

Thanks to funding from sources including Sioux Empire United Way and insurance, no student is turned away from the program due to lack of financial means. 

The program is now available in even more school districts, including Brandon Valley, Dell Rapids, Canton, Sioux Falls, and Tea Area School Districts.  Bolton hopes that's only the beginning.

"LSS is a statewide organization so we have the opportunity to potentially expand it all over the state," Bolton says.

To learn more about PATH, click here.

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