The Kirkwood Call

The Kirkwood wellness dilemma

Art by Grace Carroll

Art by Grace Carroll

Grace Klebe, news editor

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Fifty one percent (180/348) of KHS students think KSD needs a new plan to deal with the mental health of its students and staff.

With no current district-wide plan in place, the school board submitted a Request for Proposals (RFP) in March 2018 asking for help from different organizations to form a new plan focused on the mental health of KSD staff and students. The RFP stated: “The districts desired outcome is for all students and staff to be prepared to live a lifestyle of wellness, which includes being both physically and mentally healthy.”

Two different groups responded to the request, one based in St. Louis and the other in Kansas City. A KSD Wellness Committee reviewed both models and decided that the group from St. Louis, the Anthropedia Foundation, was the better of the two.

“Anthropedia addressed every single thing we put in the [RFP],” Julie Backer, school board secretary and Wellness Committee member, said. “We felt that Anthropedia knew our district already, they are in the area and they addressed all of our concerns very specifically.”

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After the decision to continue meeting with Anthropedia, there were several meetings with the school board, principals and administration. Multiple board members reported feeling excited about the potential of a new district-wide wellness plan. However there were also questions about the proposal, as Anthropedia takes a more unconventional approach to well-being.

Anthropedia is an international non-profit organization founded in St. Louis in 2004 with a mission to educate people about mental and physical health. In the past, they have worked with the Northwest School District as well as with the homeless in St. Louis.

Julie Geeting, Anthropedia-trained well-being coach, discovered the group while in graduate school for counseling. She liked the foundation because of their unique approach to wellness.

“I realized that everyone was separating the [different factors of health],” Geeting said. “The people at the doctor’s office were ignoring thoughts and emotions as part of health, and the people in the counseling and therapeutic world were pretending the body didn’t influence thoughts. Anthropedia was the only group I found that realized not only are those two things deeply connected, they are interwoven with existential needs like meaning, purpose and connection.”

The people at the doctor’s office were ignoring thoughts and emotions as part of health, and the people in the counseling and therapeutic world were pretending the body didn’t influence thoughts.”

— Geeting

Examples of the physical methodology Anthropedia uses are dance, art and coordination exercises. They have also worked with experts in philosophy, neuroscience, massage, music, osteopathy, manual therapy, meditation and more. The model Anthropedia proposed to KSD involved training staff in their methods. All staff would receive some training, but a few would participate in the full training.

“Enthusiastic and eager staff would have been invited to do the 265 hour coach certification training,” Geeting said. “We hoped to have 30 staff or community members over two years participate voluntarily in the coach training so they could eventually work with the district in an ongoing commitment to staff and student well-being.”

Anthropedia believes if the role models of the students are better able to manage stress and grow their well-being, it will trickle down to the students, resulting in stability and a positive community. It was important to them to work with the entire district, ensuring everyone’s well-being. Backer believed it would be easy to get the staff on board with this plan, but some had doubts.

“It’s really hard to do a mindset [and] culture change in which you change how you live in order to [impact] the people around you,” Melissa Sandbothe, KSD executive director of special programs, said. “It’s a huge leap of faith to believe that people are going to go on that journey with you.”

Anthropedia presented again at a school board meeting in May 2018. According to Dr. Kevin Cloninger, CEO of the Anthropedia Foundation, they left the meeting feeling confident and ready to start working. After a few months without hearing from the district, Cloninger said they reached out, and it became clear to him through communication with the district that the Anthropedia model did not have enough support from the board or principals, and they were looking for a plan that would primarily focus on the students.

“It seems, though, that it wasn’t the right time for a district-wide strategy,” Cloninger said. “District leaders truly care about the issue. We were looking forward to partnering with Kirkwood.”

Once Cloninger was made aware that the proposal lacked support, Anthropedia made the decision to focus on other projects.

I am not aware of one principal [or] board member who philosophically didn’t believe that what they were trying to achieve was good, that it was needed, that it was right.”

— Sandbothe

“An email comes from Kevin to the staff saying ‘Based off the feedback I’m getting from the school district, we are going to remove ourselves from the process,’” Chad Kavanaugh, school board director, said. “I was shocked. How did we get here?”

Kavanaugh thinks there was a communication breakdown. He doesn’t believe there was a lack of support from the school board.

“[Anthropedia’s] interpretation of what they were told is that [they weren’t] being supported,” Sandbothe said. “That’s not true. I am not aware of one principal [or] board member who philosophically didn’t believe that what they were trying to achieve was good, that it was needed, that it was right. It completely came down to how [we] take this theory and philosophical structure and implement it in a way that [will make] people want to go on the ride with [us].”

Dr. Michelle Condon, KSD superintendent, declined to comment on the issue because an official contract was never created between Anthropedia and the district. Although Anthropedia was told there wasn’t enough support from the board or the principals, there was never an official vote within either group.

“That kind of upset me, because I’m thinking to myself, hold on, we never voted. I was never asked publicly or privately my opinions on Anthropedia,” Kavanaugh said. “I was never in a setting where someone said, ‘Hey Chad, how do you feel about it? What are your concerns? What do you like, what do you not like?’”

Kavanaugh and other board members were surprised by Anthropedia removing their offer. Since they had spent multiple months working on this, some felt confused as to why it ended so abruptly.

“It’s so emotional for me because we worked on it for a really long time,” Backer said. “I don’t know anybody, especially [teenagers], that have not been personally affected by the [mental health] epidemic.”

I don’t know anybody, especially [teenagers], that have not been personally affected by the [mental health] epidemic.”

— Backer

Since KSD is no longer working with Anthropedia, the board and administration say they must start fresh when it comes to a wellness plan. Backer and Dr. Michael Havener, KHS principal, doubt there will be a new district wide plan for the 2018-19 school year, but they hope there will be one in the near future.

“We are in the process now of doing exactly what would have been the first step in Anthropedia’s proposal, which is to determine what our needs are,” Sandbothe said. “What are our current resources, what is out there, what are the areas that we don’t have as many resources in.”

As of now, there is not another RFP. KHS is going to continue the no-homework weekends with hope they relieve some of the stress the students are feeling, and Havener says they are becoming district wide.

“Mental health and wellness is such a huge problem right now.” Backer said. “It is going to take a district that is willing to be brave and do something really out of the box. It might scare some people, but if we don’t do anything at all, the alternative is we sit on our hands and do nothing. I don’t think that’s going to get us in any better of a place.”

Learn more about the Anthropedia Foundation here.

About the Writer
Grace Klebe, news editor
Interests: Tennis, Lacrosse, reading, writing, calligraphy (I’m learning), listening to musicals, obsessing over musicals, Netflix, eating Favorite food: Cool lime refresher (yeah it’s a drink I know) Favorite quote: “I’m as mad as a dad in traffic!” -Schmidt If you had to be another call staffer, who would you be and why?: Jack Bugee. I...
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