Grant Highlight: West Salem Schools- A Culture for Human Connection

May 13, 2022

Katie Berkedal, Program DirectorBy Katie Berkedal, Program Director

Creating a Culture for Human Connection

Addressing childhood mental health as a community

It’s no secret the lasting effects of a worldwide pandemic has created havoc for our youth and their mental health that will continue to unfold for years to come. That’s why the West Salem School District is taking a holistic approach to better understand how mental health is impacting their students, families, staff, and community members.

After receiving a grant of $5,000 from La Crosse Community Foundation, along with funding from other sources, they implemented a plan that would help each of these groups understand the importance of human connection in relation to mental health.


Creating a Culture for Human Connection

Using the book “Just Look Up: Five Lifesaving Phrases Every Human Needs to Hear” by Joe Beckman as a starting off point, West Salem teachers began to build a foundation and awareness of the challenges that their students face. Then, the brought in Joe Beckman to an all-staff in-service that focused on gratitude, happiness, choices, and self-care.  After staff had time to implement Beckman’s ideas and practices into their teachings and connections with students, Beckman was brought back to West Salem to present to the students in February 2022.

Staff attendees of the event stated, “students were actively involved throughout Joe’s presentation, getting up on stage, conversing, and dancing along as he shared his message with them.” After the presentations, students discussed amongst their classmates how each of them could change someone’s day for the better and how to continue to implement Joe’s teachings into their everyday lives going forward.


The lasting impact of an incredible speaker and message

West Salem Middle School Healthy Living teacher Erika Olson shared, “This is my 21st year teaching and Joe was by far the most impactful speaker I have ever heard speak to adults and students. One of the things he spoke to us about was, “embracing the awkward.” I have taken that to heart and speak up more in meetings and to other staff, even when it may be uncomfortable. I use this philosophy to continually do what is best for kids, not what is easiest for me. Something else that stuck with me is to take the extra minute to listen no matter what a student is wanting to share. You were important enough in their world for them to seek you out. This has changed me as an educator. Joe’s impact is still felt daily.”

These are type of projects that have a positive ripple effect on an entire community. If this blog has sparked an idea for a project you’d like your nonprofit organization to work on, check out how to apply for funding here.