SUN PRAIRIE, Wisconsin – Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and representatives from Catholic Charities of Madison on Wednesday marked the 10-year anniversary of the founding of Building Bridges – a school-based mental health support program – and announced the program’s expansion for next school year during a press conference at Sun Prairie Area School District’s headquarters.
Building Bridges is a collaborative effort between local school districts, Dane County and Catholic Charities. Twenty-six mental health professionals employed by Catholic Charities provide short-term crisis stabilization while also connecting students and their families to long-term resources. This model ensures students are better able to focus on learning, families have the tools they need to thrive, and teachers can devote more of their resources to teaching and supporting students while they learn.
“This program has touched so many lives throughout Dane County,” said Shawn Carney, executive director of Catholic Charities. “We’re very humbled and very honored to have been part of the success of Building Bridges.”
Parisi announced the Madison Metropolitan School District and Sun Prairie Area School District would each add a new two-person Building Bridges team to their districts starting with the 2023-24 school year, bringing a total of five teams to Madison and two teams to Sun Prairie. Building Bridges serves 10 school districts throughout Dane County.
“I think it’s no secret to anyone that mental health needs for everyone across the board are off the charts,” Parisi said. “People are stressed. We’ve been through some pretty crazy times. The world is still a challenging place for a lot of folks, and particularly for young people and parents of young people. I think we as a community believe that our young people deserve and need support, and we’re going to do everything we can to continue to support these professionals in this work.”
Since the program’s inception in 2013, Building Bridges has provided support for more than 1,900 students, families and school staff members. Trish Grant, the program director for Building Bridges, said the program has already served more than 250 students in nearly 100 Dane County schools during the current school year. The students served range in age from 4-year-old kindergarten through ninth grade.
“When I think of our hard-working 26 Building Bridges staff (soon to be 30 with the upcoming expansion in Sun Prairie and Madison next year) who are spread throughout 10 Dane County public school districts supporting students, parents and school teams, I picture an enormous ripple caused by their good work connecting students with long-term mental health services as well as strengthening the toolkit of parents and school staff who care for children facing mental health issues,” Grant said.
Monona Grove School District Superintendent Dan Olson said his district has partnered with Building Bridges since 2019 and has seen a significant positive impact.
“Our students’ needs are only growing more complex, and we are grateful for the critical link Building Bridges provides so that our students and families can connect with services in our area and work toward long-term success at school and in our community,” Olson said.
Parisi praised Building Bridges staff for their dedication to helping students and families, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlighted the county’s ongoing partnerships with Catholic Charities.
“Catholic Charities provides the teams, the expertise, the professionals and they partner with folks in the schools,” Parisi said. “… We appreciate that partnership greatly. It’s one of our many partnerships we have with Catholic Charities, including our partnership at The Beacon homeless day resource center and others. We have some very similar social missions that we partner on and we’re grateful for that.”
In addition to Sun Prairie, Madison and Monona Grove, Building Bridges also partners with the DeForest, Middleton-Cross Plains, Mount Horeb, Oregon, Stoughton, Verona, and Waunakee school districts.