SD schools looking to add new mental health curriculum

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) – Many people struggle with mental health issues in the nation, and in South Dakota, one mental health advocate has the goal of adding new curriculum to schools. It’s a way to learn skills to cope.

In South Dakota, every school district doesn’t teach students how to cope with mental health issues, but now more students could learn about it in South Dakota.

In February, Tiffany Thoelke spoke at a school board meeting and recently learned her proposal was accepted.

“I just remember waking up in January and saying I have to do this, whatever it takes,” Thoelke said.

She’s an advocate for mental health and believes that all schools should implement some sort of course.

“You just wake up one day and you’re like I’m tired of seeing my friends struggle. I’m tired of going to funerals. What can we do as a community to really dig deep and be effective in all of this?” Thoelke said.

That’s why she reached out to the Sioux Falls School District to see if the new curriculum could be added. South Dakota recently received a five-year grant for Project Aware, but it’s not in every school.

“As we work through that then we’ll develop on how to expand it if we choose to do that,” South Dakota Secretary of Education, Benjamin Jones said.

Project Aware was awarded to the state to create pathways for schools to work with community health providers.

Sioux Falls Superintendent Dr. Brian Maher said the work to teach mental health is already ongoing.

“What do we do today so that three years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now issues of mental health are far less than they are today,” Dr. Maher said.

Tiffany lost her significant other to mental illness in 2015. He battled his illness while still being an advocate.

“He was a very outspoken advocate for mental health and always wanted to make sure that we stopped stigmatizing it,” Thoelke said.

Through her grief and healing is when she knew he would want her to make sure all students receive this education.

Her goal was to reach teenagers. At that age, they’re just beginning to find themselves. After proposing her plan, to her surprise the school district wanted to reach all students K-12.

“So to see other people being open and honest about their struggles can really impact lives. It can change somebody’s life at that moment that they maybe are contemplating doing something,” Thoelke said.

Tiffany hopes her message can reach the Head of Curriculum in another district in South Dakota in hopes a mental health plan can be established.

Professionals, teachers, and administrators will all be coming together to see what works.

The way this new curriculum will look is not exactly clear yet. The committee will begin brainstorming starting this fall leading up to 2021.

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