EAST BREMERTON — Several weeks ago, Chris Borer teared up standing in a newly-built classroom knowing how many more kids with mental health issues would get help there.
With the opening of the new space in February, located on the Kitsap Mental Health Services campus on Almira Drive, KMHS has doubled its capacity to serve K-12 students who need treatment-focused support to be successful in school — the primary goal of the agency’s Madrona Day Treatment program.
“It’s been incredible to be able to serve more students and also to really give them the space that they need to learn,” said Borer, who has worked at KMHS for 15 years.
Previously, the Madrona program had one classroom to serve 12 children. KMHS last year got funding from the state budget to build a second classroom in the same building, turning some of KMHS’s office space into an extra space for students.
Two classrooms have similar interiors. Whiteboard, tables, chairs and some students’ colorful paintings decorating the wall.
With the second classroom being used, the program’s capacity is extended from 12 to 24. The program currently serves about 21 students, Borer said.
The second classroom allows staff to break students into pods. Therefore, children of similar ages can be around their peers as opposed to all being in the same classroom, Borer said.
“It makes it easier for them to grow up, that really young kids not to be intimidated by a high school student,” Borer said.
Beginning over 40 years ago, the Madrona program provides treatment, counseling and education for students who struggle with emotional and behavioral issues and need assistance that their original school districts couldn’t provide, Borer said.
In 2002, KMHS lost some state funds to run the Madrona program but ended up contracting with school districts in Kitsap and the surrounding area in order to keep operating the program. The partnership with school districts last until now.
Currently, 10 school districts partner with KMHS in the program, which include all five school districts in Kitsap County; south to North Mason School District, Peninsula School District, and Tacoma School District; and north to Chimacum School District and Port Townsend School District, Borer said.
Eleven staff members, including Borer, are serving in the program to support students’ needs. The team consists of teachers, behavioral interventionists, therapists and paraprofessionals, Borer said.
The philosophy in Madrona is that every staff is a teacher-counselor and all can help children with academics and counseling, Borer said.
“We’re available to support kids when they’re ready for academics,” Borer said. “But all of our staff can also. If they’re having a hard day, it’s not just the therapist that can talk to them. Any of our staff can sit down with the kid and work through whatever the social-emotional problem is they ‘re dealing with.”
The duration of time students spend in the Madrona school varies and is based on each individual’s situation. Some stay for one school year before they are ready to go back to their original school districts, while others may take two to three years. Some are here full-time, while some may have a half-day in Madrona and half-day in their original school, Andrew Glass, clinical supervisor of KMHS, said.
On Wednesday, KMHS hosted a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the opening of the second classroom and tour the new space for the participants.
Those who showed up included KMHS staff members and leadership, as well as state legislators, Sen. Christine Rolfes and State Rep. Tarra Simmons of the 23rd Legislative District, who help secure a $321,000 state budget to fund the construction. The project was Simmons’s first capital budget request after she joined the Legislature in January 2021, she said.
“I’m very, very happy and just grateful for the work of Kitsap Mental Health Services and their vision to help these children who really need support, trauma-informed care and rehabilitation. And bringing them here so they can get back to regular school ,” Simmons said.
“I think this is great,” Rolfes said, adding that children’s behavior services were a priority for the state even before the pandemic. “It’s always nice to be part of a community project, to play a role in helping the community a better place.”
Borer expressed his gratitude to those who he works with to make the goal come true. Glass shared some core values that staff in the Madrona school dedicated to teaching the students, as well as mutual support between staff members in the event.
“To see it actually come to fruition… it was just incredible,” Borer said.