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Police program gives students free counseling

Students referred by school, or after minor crime
By: Lien Hoang, The Press Tribune
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From fishing to playing in the snow, Joseph Aaron Fincher used to revel in outings with his father. So when both parents were taken to jail for drugs charges, Joseph, 11, retreated inward and let his grades slip. His maternal grandmother, Debra Keys, took custody of Joseph and his siblings and said he wouldn’t open up to her. Then, out of nowhere, Joseph decided to accept help. “I was really surprised when Joseph came home and said he was going to counseling,” Keys said. That was a bit after the start of the school year, and the counseling came through a partnership Roseville police have struck with local schools. The program is a year-long internship for college students to guide children and teenagers like Joseph. For the Cooley Middle School sixth grader, progress hasn’t been dramatic. But he has taken a liking to his counselor and begun to vent the anger and disappointment he used to hold in. Young students can be referred for free, regular counseling sessions by school administrators or teachers. In the wake of a Buljan Middle School student’s death two weeks ago, counselors organized special open office hours for students troubled by the loss. More commonly, counselor interns peruse police reports and call the families of young first-time offenders within a week of their arrests, rather than wait till probation steps in a month later. The idea is to head off delinquency that can lead to a life of crime. “We’re really not interested in the crime,” said Beverly Gable, a therapist in charge of the Police Department’s Youth and Family Services. “We’re interested in the family pieces contributing to the crime.” When talking to parents, interns ask about the juveniles’ grades, past discipline, friendships and other symptoms of trouble. When in counseling, youth open up about issues ranging from divorce to gangs to bullying. “Some are uncomfortable, they may feel like a wimp or something” for accepting counseling, intern Carissa McSherry said. “I first off acknowledge that that’s an uncomfortable feeling to go to a strnager and start spilling their guts.” McSherry, a social work major at California State University, Sacramento, then tries to build rapport by discussing the child or teen’s interests, like sports and cars. Counselors use different exercises to address the problems clients are dealing with. In one, students cut from magazines to build collages about themselves. In another, they fill in the blank after sentences like, “Nobody knows this about me —.” As budgets shrink across the board, many schools have lost in-house counselors, making interns that much more of an addition. “Having the interns really helps fill that niche of kids needing to talk to somebody,” said Todd Gladwill, assistant principle at Cooley Middle School. Gable trains the interns — this year there are eight — who go through background checks and volunteer 16 hours per week for the academic year. They typically major in psychology or social work. By the end of this year, McSherry said, “I would like to feel that I helped someone, that I was there for someone, maybe when no one else was.” Lien Hoang can be reached at lienh@goldcountrymedia.com.