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OSAWATOMIE — When Ardy Dehdasht was hired last spring as Osawatomie High School’s new principal, he said every student is unique and every student’s needs must be met.

Putting that philosophy in motion, Dehdasht pushed to get OHS involved in a pilot program in which WellConnect/New Directions and Greenbush are partnering with Osawatomie and four other Kansas high schools to provide students with access to Talkspace online therapy at no cost.

Students can use their laptop, tablet or mobile phone to connect with a licensed therapist via private messaging (audio, video and text) or live video for up to eight sessions per topic, according to Talkspace. Students have their choice of up to nine licensed counselors, who each provide a bio and short video to aid the selection process.

Each Talkspace session typically equals one week, so eight sessions would provide eight weeks of therapy per topic. Students who have other issues arise during the school year can use the service more than once — and always at no cost.

All sessions are confidential, and the platform is certified to be HIPAA compliant, according to Talkspace.

When signing up for the Talkspace platform, parental consent is required for high school students between the ages of 13 and 17. Students who are 18 do not need parental consent, Dehdasht said.

The free counseling service can help with any number of issues that create stress and anxiety for high school-age students — from school work to dating to family issues at home and other challenges, said Dehdasht and Superintendent Justin Burchett, who also supports the pilot program.

Dehdasht said a similar New Directions counseling service worked well at his former school in Holden, Mo.

“We used a version of this at our previous school, and it was quite successful,” Dehdasht said. “We were amazed by the number of students and parents that used this free service.”

Other Kansas high schools in the pilot program are Baldwin, Lebo, Waverly and Independence. The goal was to keep the pilot program to around 2,000 students.

Dehdasht said Greenbush’s benchmark for success is to get at least 5 percent of those 2,000 students to sign up. If successful, Greenbush likely would roll it out to other Kansas high schools in the future, he said.

“Based on my experience, there is going to be a lot more than 5 percent,” Dehdasht said.

To be successful, Dehdasht said it will be important to educate students and parents about the service. The principal plans to include information about Talkspace in the weekly Trojan Talk newsletter, send home flyers with students, send out emails to parents and inform students through advisory classes.

“We need to make sure we can educate our parents and kids on this great program,” Dehdasht said. “We want students to know if they need it, use it. Don’t suffer through a situation. This is a tool to help them handle it appropriately.”

The program launched Oct. 1 and will continue through May 31. Greenbush, the region’s educational service center, is footing the bill so it’s free to the five pilot schools, Burchett said.

If a student is using Talkspace when the pilot ends May 31, counseling will continue at no cost until the eight sessions are completed, Burchett said.

The sessions do not take place during school hours, Dehdasht said.

“New Directions’ thing is they don’t want to interrupt the school day,” he said. “During the school day, we offer these services through our own school counselors, of course. This (Talkspace) is just another layer. We’re trying to provide parents with another tool and another opportunity to help their students beyond school hours.”

A second component of the program called FAST Line is available 24/7 for faculty and staff to provide coaching and referral support for student related issues, according to WellConnect.

“If a teacher is not sure how to handle a situation with a student with depression, for example, or a student having a tough time with family at home, they can get some suggestions on how they can handle the situation,” Dehdasht said.

Burchett said Talkspace addresses a need many school districts have for getting mental health resources in the hands of parents to help their children with issues such as anxiety, stress, depression and developing good coping skills.

“We’ve worked inside the district with staff education, but we need to give students and families tools to use, too,” Burchett said. “We are finding students going off to college who we thought were well prepared academically, but they have never failed — so that’s a real struggle for them to know, ‘How do I cope with that? How do I handle that?’”

News Editor Doug Carder can be reached at (913) 294-2311.

News Editor Doug Carder can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or doug.carder@miconews.com.

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