Think Out Loud

Salem offers high schoolers training in behavioral health

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Nov. 2, 2023 5:04 p.m. Updated: Nov. 9, 2023 10 p.m.

Broadcast: Thursday, Nov. 2

The Career Technical Education Center in Salem is hosting a behavioral health and human services program for students. It’s designed to give high schoolers an inside look into the mental health field and teach students about principles and careers in psychology, sociology, counseling and social work. Erin Dannecker is an industry teacher at CTEC and a licensed clinical social worker. Nevaeh Humbyrd is a junior in the program. They join us with more about the skills and lessons taught in the program.


Note: This transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. For the last eight years, high school students in Salem-Kaiser schools have been able to take a variety of vocational classes that can prepare them for work in fields as diverse as auto body repair, cosmetology, aviation, and construction. This fall, a new program was launched. It’s for students who want to explore possible careers in behavioral health and human services. Erin Dannecker is a licensed clinical social worker and one of the instructors for this new program. Nevaeh Humbyrd is a junior in the program. They both join me now. Welcome to Think Out Loud.

Erin Dannecker: Thanks for having us.

Nevaeh Humbyrd: Hi, thank you.

Miller: Nevaeh, first. Why did you want to take this class?

Humbyrd: I wanted to take this class because I’ve always known I’ve wanted to help people and I’ve had this deep passion to learn more about people and helping them. But I wasn’t very sure on different career options and I knew with this program, that would help me.

Miller: What are the classes like?

Humbyrd: Well, in this class specifically, it’s very interactive and it’s very comfortable and fun. And I really love this program.

Miller: When you say interactive, what do you mean?

Humbyrd: Well, we’re very hands on with our assignments. We’re mainly focused on being interactive, having projects, group work, speaking and asking questions rather than just sitting writing the whole time.

Miller: Erin Dannecker, when I think about vocational classes, I imagine a lot of hands-on learning. So if students are going to learn welding, I imagine that once it’s safe enough for them to do so, they’ll literally be welding. But I also imagine that you can’t necessarily put a high school junior, who doesn’t really have experience and is not licensed as a mental health counselor, in front of somebody who is in a mental health crisis and expect them to provide help to that person. So how do you teach something like this to high school juniors and seniors?

Dannecker: Yeah, we’ve been thinking a lot about the way to do this ethically and give our students the most immersive experience. So some of our classes look more like teaching micro-skills that you would use in the field and doing role plays and practicing with each other. It also looks like using case vignettes, so fictionalized client cases that they can start to explore their clinical thinking through different assignments that wrap up around clinical skills, in a fictionalized way. And we’re also thinking about ways to get our students to be peer mentors for other students, kind of in more of a prevention way than a responsive or crisis management way.

Miller: Nevaeh, can you describe a case that you’ve worked on, a case vignette?

Humbyrd: I can definitely do that. With the case vignette, it’s a clinical strategy for obtaining and organizing information about a client. And in one assignment specifically that we worked on, our case conceptualization, we worked in small groups with the same hypothetical client. And we spoke on the information given with this client in different ways, to maybe help this client.

After that, we moved to different other smaller groups. But instead of having the same client, we had different clients. And while sharing out this information about our separate clients, we started to realize they connected and we realized later on that this was a family. So it began with a small group of just the same client. And then our second group was different people. And we shared our information and realized we’re a family, which was really cool and interesting to hear about, how you have your information about your certain client and you’re advocating for your certain client. But also the person next to you is advocating for their client and what’s best for them. But as a family, they also have to work together. So we have our individual clients that we’re working with, but we also have to work as a family, to what works best for individual and client and family. And that was really cool and I thought that was really nice and it was nice to see how my peers next to me were also switching to be their own social worker. And I thought that was really cool.


Miller: Erin Dannecker, how have you figured out what’s age appropriate in terms of content and emotional weight?

Dannecker: Sure. I guess the first thing I would say is I do think that oftentimes we underestimate our teenagers, culturally. I think that all of our students are having these conversations about issues like homelessness and other kinds of social service issues already and they are interested in engaging in these topics with their friends. They talk about suicide with each other, they talk about mental health crises with each other, and we are building a lot of relationships. That’s one of the foundations of this program is, we know our students really well, they’re with us for half a week. We get to really kind of key into where they’re at and what they’re ready for.

Miller: Just to be sure, they’re with you half a week, every week, right?

Dannecker: Half a week, every week. Yeah. So we have them for two and a half days of their five-day school week.

Miller: Nevaeh, what do those relationships mean? I’m curious if you feel like you’re having different conversations, even with your classmates who are not in this program with you, because of this class.

Humbyrd: Well, with this program in CTEC, my experience is very comfortable. And because we only come here, like Erin said, two and a half days out of the week. So I could see how an outsider from this program can see how building relationships and making connections could be a little more difficult with less time. But compared to my home school, I feel so much more comfortable here and the connections here, I feel are so much stronger because I feel all the students and the peers have worked to become a part of this collective. So we’re all so grateful to be together and just share this experience together and we’re all working to the same goal.

At our home school, obviously the connections are still nice. But at CTEC, we all are working to the same goal and we’re all happy to be here and be with each other and we’re helping each other. So it feels more comfortable and I feel like I’m growing here.

Miller: Do you feel like you’ve been applying the lessons you’ve learned in the program outside of class?

Humbyrd: I do, I feel like I really am. I’m learning more about different, like, volunteer options, especially, that I’m more interested in now, that I wouldn’t have known without CTEC. And I think outside of school, I’m learning more about different opportunities I can be taking for college or if I don’t decide to go to college that I wouldn’t have known without CTEC.

Miller: Erin Dannecker, I’m curious why you wanted to teach this class?

Dannecker: I have been mostly doing therapy for the past five or so years, but I also have been a field instructor for social workers who are doing their practicum. So while they’re in their master’s program, they do placement-based learning. And I loved working with students who are learning how to be therapists. And then this really just felt like the next natural step with that. I really love the opportunity to work with teenagers. I’ve always loved working with teenagers and that was primarily who I was doing therapy with. And this is just such a different way to engage that allows me to have those one on one relationships with all of the students in this program. But also be thinking about growing the next generation of helping professionals who can have better preparation for what they’re getting into and who can prevent burnout and sustain this work and who will go on to change the field. So it just feels so meaningful to be here, kind of in this more macro-perspective of thinking about developing the field and that was so worth it to me and it’s been one of the most gratifying career experiences I’ve ever had.

Miller: Nevaeh, before we go, what do you think would make the biggest difference for the mental health of young people today?

Humbyrd: I think the biggest difference we can make is exposure and letting everyone know about this program and spread awareness of mental health and learning and about these programs, so we all can know more and help each other and help the ones we love because many people, they want to help, but they don’t know how. And I think spreading awareness and spreading knowledge would be the biggest, biggest change in health.

Miller: Nevaeh Humbyrd and Erin Dannecker, thanks very much.

Dannecker: Thank you.

Humbyrd: Thank you.

Miller: Nevaeh Humbyrd is a junior in the program for high school students at Salem-Kaiser schools who got a chance to explore a wide variety of careers in counseling and behavioral health. Erin Dannecker is a licensed clinical social worker and one of the instructors in this new program.

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