Mental health services complement academic, faith formation

St. Raphael Counseling enriches holistic formation offered at Catholic schools

Roxanne King

How Dick or Jane learn, behave or handle their emotions can point to mental disorders, with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and behavior disorders being the most common diagnosed, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The 2013 study found that 1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2 to 8 years (17.4 percent) had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. It also shows that diagnoses of depression and anxiety are more common with increased age, and behavior problems are more common among children aged 6 to 11 years.

Most sobering? In the same report, suicide was the second leading cause of death among adolescents aged 12 to 17.

The encouraging news is that early diagnosis of mental health disorders and appropriate services can make a difference. In Catholic schools of the Denver Archdiocese, a team of six counselors from Catholic Charities’ St. Raphael Counseling work with students and staff in nine elementary/middle schools located in Broomfield, Welby, central and inner-city Denver, Boulder, Aurora and Lakewood.

“Each week our team is providing over 120 direct service hours to kids in Catholic schools,” said Jim Langley, a licensed clinical psychologist who is co-founder and executive director of St. Raphael Counseling. “They serve hundreds of kids a year.”

In addition to providing counseling, the mental health professionals help identify learning disorders. Once a psychologist makes a diagnosis, in partnership with school staff and parents, the counselors tailor an action plan to effectively meet the child’s educational needs.

“They also do consultation with teachers on a variety of topics: classroom management, how to meet the emotional needs of kids in the classroom and how to work with families,” Langley said.

Outreach efforts include hosting parent nights for Catholic schools addressing topics ranging from how to manage screen time at home to how to manage homework and set a good evening routine.

“Another thing we’re involved with is when a threat assessment is deemed necessary,” Langley said. “We help perform the psychological assessment and advise the school on how to respond if a kid is bullying somebody and maybe makes a threat. We assess the severity of the threat and figure out the best way to respond.”

Superintendent of Catholic Schools Elias Moo has worked with the archdiocesan team both in his current position and in his previous roles as a principal and teacher.

“They are a tremendous blessing for the community,” Moo said. “These days we see a lot of mental health-related issues that come up and impact the learning experience of students.

“One of the most important aims of the Catholic schools is to tend to the formation of the whole child: their intellectual faculties, soul, body and emotions—the heart. Having mental health support through St. Raphael where a counselor approaches through an authentic Catholic anthropology and understanding of the human person is great.”

The majority of youths today, 8 out of 10, Langley said, will experience some type of mental health issue, such as bullying, academic struggles, anxiety, low self-esteem or family issues.

“Most kids have experienced some of that in their childhood,” he said. “We often assume kids are resilient and these things don’t affect them that much. That’s not true, they are greatly affected.”

Noting that Colorado’s teen suicide rate continues to increase—it is nearly twice the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—Langley said there is a clear need to be able to provide mental health services for youths.

“Our counselors are really focused on helping kids recognize their God-given dignity,” Langley said. “The worldly way of looking at life … teaches that your worth is something that has to be earned and that the way you can tell you’re valued is by the feedback you get from your peers.

“Our counselors help them understand their sense of worth and their dignity in the Lord and help them to make choices based on that dignity. It’s an awesome message to give kids at such a young age.”

Moo affirmed that foundational Catholic belief.

“We’re not immune to anything but we are an educational community of faith and every child is being reminded constantly that they are loved by God and that they are sons and daughters of God,” he said. “When it comes to topics like depression, how to prevent suicide and terrible acts of violence, youths can lose hope and forget they have someone who loves them. The Catholic schools have a message of hope and love to transmit rooted in our faith and in our Lord.”

Moo and Langley both expressed a desire to see counselors made available at all Catholic schools that want one (there are 36 diocesan schools, according to the Office of Catholic School’s website). Currently, counselors’ salaries are covered jointly between the school and Catholic Charities.

“If you have kids in a Catholic school that doesn’t have a counselor, advocate with the school for getting one,” Langley advised. “Many principals see the value in it.”

“There are no concrete plans, but we are committed to doing what we can,” Moo said.

COMING UP: Denver’s first Catholic classical high school opens under patronage of Our Lady of Victory

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Nearly half a millennium ago, thousands of Catholics heeded Pope Pius V’s call to pray the Rosary requesting Our Lady’s intercession for the deliverance of Europe from Turkish invasion.

In a miraculous triumph, at what came to be known as the “Battle of Lepanto,” the outnumbered Christian “Holy League” overcame the Turkish forces, winning Our Lady of the Rosary a new advocation: Our Lady of Victory.

Today, Denver’s new and first Catholic classical high school has chosen Our Lady of Victory as its patroness, with the mission of developing the whole person and forming students who are holy, well-educated and prepared to engage the present culture and contribute to society.

Our Lady of Victory High School is part of the Chesterton Schools Network, which encourages parent-led Catholic schools across the nation, inspired by the life and work of G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a poem about the victory at Lepanto.

Although the school is not an archdiocesan high school, it has been officially recognized by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila as a Catholic school. This fall’s inaugural 9th grade class will launch at the St. Louis Parish School building in Denver with nearly 20 students.

“Chesterton’s model of joyful Catholicism draws upon the classical tradition but is very evangelical: It engages the culture with a joyful approach to being Catholic… rather than a reactionary one,” said Dr. R. Jared Staudt, President of the school, Director of Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute. “We want to form saints to go out and do great things for the Lord within our culture.”

The classical education approach highlights the trivium (logic, grammar and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy).

“We emphasize Socratic dialogue as well as the trivium: how to read texts carefully and understand them through grammar, how to think about them in a coherent manner through logic, and then how to express yourself well in writing and speech through rhetoric; but also the quadrivium: How do we understand the logical order and beauty of the universe?” Dr. Staudt explained.

The benefits of this type of education are many, he assured.

“It’s not just a practical output, but about forming strong dispositions of thinking, of being able to evaluate things, being able to form a plan of action for your life that will translate into being successful in the future.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things,” Dr. Staudt said.

Part of what makes this goal possible is the communion between faith and reason. Students begin the school day with daily Mass; read Homer, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dostoevsky, G.K. Chesterton, etc.; and study the Bible and the Catechism. They participate in a curriculum where history, philosophy, literature and theology are “braided together,” as their website states.

Part of what makes it unique is also its approach to the fine arts and to mathematics and science.

“We emphasize the fine arts because we want the students to be engaged with beauty and wonder… We want to humanize them, to make them more fully alive,” Dr. Staudt said.

“I would say we also approach math and science from that perspective. We take math and science very seriously, but not as something dry and textbook based, but something that is engaging the beauty, the logic, the wonder of the universe, and the fact that we can logically understand [it] because it is itself something that is a creative work of a mind, of God’s mind, and his beauty is impressed within it.”

As part of this approach, the school has implemented in its unique formation a lot of time in the outdoors, beginning the year with a three-day backpacking trip with the students and ending with a whitewater rafting trip.
The school also plans on having retreats throughout the year, attending and hosting fine arts events and providing service opportunities for its students.

“I think that’s truly part of what makes us unique, that we want to develop the whole person: body, mind and soul,” Dr. Staudt explained.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things.”

The seed for the foundations of the school began with the desire of a group of Denver Catholic parents for a holistic, classical formation for their children, also motived by the need for a Catholic high school in the South Denver metro area.

Hoping to open a Catholic classical high school for their children in the future, six dads organized a series of monthly talks titled “The First Educators” at St. Mary Parish in Littleton from September to November 2018 as a first step to help in this direction.

Little did they know that their dream would become reality only a few months later, with the help of Dr. Staudt, the Chesterton Schools Network and the support of other parents around the archdiocese.

With six experienced teachers on board, the mission-driven school is set to begin forming students in the classical tradition.

“We want them to be holy. I would say that is our biggest overarching goal, that we want to form saints in the sense that they are thinking people who are well-educated and well prepared to engage the world and make a contribution in society – but [in a way] that holiness integrates everything else that we do,” Dr. Staudt concluded.

For more information, visit ourladyofvictorydenver.com.