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Kalispell public schools bringing more resources, attention to mental health

Ben Dorrington
Posted at 4:10 PM, May 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-06 18:20:42-04

KALISPELL - Kalispell Public Schools (KPS) are bringing more attention and funneling more resources toward mental health following a series of tragedies.

KPS is doing so with the recent hiring of a health, wellness, and suicide prevention specialist who happens to be from Kalispell.

Ben Dorrington took on the position in late February to help bridge the gap between mental health resources in the school setting and community organizations looking to get involved.

MTN News talked to Dorrington about taking on this new challenge as a community searches for answers.

“Somebody else to plug in because mental health is a big issue to tackle and so the more people we can involve, the better,” said Flathead High School counselor Michael Sherman.

Dorrington takes on his new role as Health, Wellness and Suicide Prevention Specialist after an uptick in youth suicides rocked the Kalispell community in 2021.

“Montana consistently ranks very high in our suicide numbers and Flathead Valley over the past couple of years has ranked very high nationally. And so I think when you want to be an active community member and have kids in the Kalispell Public School system, you want to do something about this.” - Ben Dorrington

Dorrington will work directly with Kalispell School District counselors and psychologists to bring additional mental health resources and action plans to the forefront for students, families, and district staff.

“That’s really what we need, is taking people away from feeling isolated like they’re alone on an island and bringing them together in the family and the school system,” Dorrington said.

Sherman says the new position immediately fills a void in the school district.

“Four counselors for 1,500 students, that’s a big ratio, we have almost 400 students per counselor so, again it’s nice to have Ben just help us get out in the community that we don’t necessarily have time to do.”

Dorrington wants to bridge the gap between schools and community members allowing the two to work together in a more formal setting, increasing mental health seminars and online tools.

“You know what we’re finding through our student consortium groups is that families want to be involved, often times they just don’t know what to do.”

As the Flathead continues to grow, high school counselor Chelsea Cattelino says Dorrington’s role in the community will be instrumental in bonding relationships and creating trust.

“We’re kind of the heart in our community I feel, you know the school schedule, the routines, it all kind of leads back to here and when our heart is aching the community feels it.”

“And I think that’s where Ben is going to come into play to really, like we said bridge that gap and help bring everybody on the same page,” Cattelino continued.

On Monday we will hear directly from Sherman and Cattelino about mental health challenges facing students and how the community can help.