At FDCSD, the PRIDE program is expanding

The Positively and Responsibly Integrating Daily Empowerment program is expanding.

The Fort Dodge Community School District PRIDE program serves students in grades seven through 12 who have significant mental health issues. PRIDE is conducted at the district’s central administration office.

“We provide mental health counseling here on a daily basis through Youth Shelter Care,” Lis Ristau, program coordinator, said. “We have an agreement with them, and they provide individual counseling for the students, group counseling, and then they also work with the parents . That’s a wonderful addition, plus they get the academics here.”

PRIDE has been a part of the Fort Dodge school district for four years.

“It was due to the number of students we had in those grades who had a lot of significant mental health issues,” Ristau said. “We do a lot with community service, transition back to public schools, as well as some transition in regards to career awareness and job shadowing types of activities for the students.”

Teachers Barb Allard and Nick Benson will be joined in the PRIDE program by a yet-to-be-hired third teacher this year, Ristau said.

“We have two and we’re hiring a third,” she said. “We’ll have five paraeducators in the program. We have a full-time behavior interventionist. And we’re also looking for a behavior specialist to do more of the social skills and some of the community project learning activities for the students, as well.”

Not only is the program expanding in Fort Dodge, it’s reaching out to other districts.

“We had a conversation with some of the outlying districts’ superintendents and we were discussing the need in our area for programming for kids with mental health issues,” Ristau said. “We had said we have a program that we started here in Fort Dodge if they would be interested in partnering with us to provide some services for their students as well

According to Ristau, the superintendents were “very interested.”

“We are just starting to advertise for some additional staff with the idea that we’ll grow a little bit, maybe to about 30 students this year,” she said. “We’re very excited about this opportunity to collaborate with outlying districts.”

Ristau said its students benefit from the program.

“A lot of them are able to return to public school, be able to gain credits to graduate,” she said. “That had been a big issue prior, too. A lot of our students were starting to drop out of school. But this has been a wonderful program that has helped them stay in school, provide them even some soft skills so they can go out and find a job in the community.”

PRIDE complements the district’s Collaborative Approach Remedial Education Services program, which serves students in grades kindergarten through sixth with mental health issues.

The students, though, don’t just leap from one program to the other, Ristau said.

“Most of the time they don’t,” she said, “but sometimes we have to have children that were at sixth grade that weren’t quite ready to return so we started them up here in PRIDE and slowly transitioned them back into public school.”

Jim Seward, Youth Shelter Care executive director, describes the agreement with the district as “a wonderful partnership.”

“I find it a privilege to continue to work with great programs such as PRIDE and CARES and providing skill building, counseling to their students in hopes to better their educational progress,” Seward said. “There’s been a lot of success in it.”

Ristau said she is excited about the program’s potential to grow still further.

“One thing we did talk about is, if this program really takes off, there is a need for kind of another program up in the Storm Lake, Spencer area,” she said. “The superintendents have said that has been a big issue, mental health issues there, too, so it might be a program to be replicated there in the future.”