The Ketchikan School Board sped through all its scheduled actions on Wednesday evening, unanimously approving all items of new business and all actions on its consent calendar within about two hours of convening.

Among those items approved were five teaching contracts for the 2021-22 school year; acceptance of seven grants to the district, including two batches of funding from COVID-19 relief programs; two contracts to continue sharing a library system with the Ketchikan Public Library after the University of Alaska Southeast’s Ketchikan campus withdraws from the First City Library Consortium on July 1; and three revisions to the board’s policies regarding complaints to the district.

What little discussion there was on those actions was confined to clarifying questions and expressions of interest, with little disagreement. Before voting to approve the consent calendar, Board Vice President Diane Gubatayao expressed a desire to see that teaching contracts on the board agenda in future meetings include the position in which the potential hire would serve and the subject in which the potential hire would teach.

Near the start of the meeting, the board heard from two representatives of a partner program that the Ketchikan School District conducted over the past year with the non-profit group Women in Safe Homes to offer youth counseling services to students in the district.

“Essentially, … students can see us (and) walk in (for) free mental health support services, pretty much at any time,” explained Samantha Funk, a licensed counselor who has run counseling sessions for the program at Ketchikan High School.

The program, funded through a roughly $131,000 grant from the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, began in September.

Over the course of the year, 23 students opted to participate in the free talk therapy.

“(That) may not sound like a massive number, but considering some of the environmental challenges that we’ve had with everything that’s gone on in the last year, that’s 23 kids that I think may not have otherwise gotten those services,” Funk said. “I worked at (Residential Youth Care) for a long time, and our caseloads were unreal, and never lessening. And in my eyes, that’s 23 kids that may not have made it on someone else’s caseload.

“It was 102 sessions that we facilitated over the school year, and that is a lot,” she added. “These were kids with needs — like, capital-n Needs — that weren’t necessarily coming in because they needed a place to vent, although we had some of those, too, and that’s perfectly fine. But these were kids that needed to work through some stuff. We made four referrals to community mental health providers, so that was four links that we were able to make between ourselves and (Ketchikan Indian Community), Community Connections and RYC, so kids were actually able to get into a system that was going to meet every one of their needs and meet them where they're at. And then we also made two referrals to victim services, which were … youth who were the direct experiences of violence, and finding them safe places to be.”

With the grant renewed for the upcoming school year — and a new grant from the federal Office of Violence Against Women — Funk said the program’s organizers are hoping to expand counseling services at Kayhi and Schoenbar Middle School to offer group activities during lunch hours and after school, assuming that the threat of COVID-19 diminishes by that time. They also want to establish a more consistent presence at Schoenbar and Revilla Junior Senior High School.