Mental Health Resources in ICCSD, What We Have and What We Need

Mental health activist Abbey Schley and City High’s SFAs provide information and resources for students


Dorothy Schley

Abbey Schley proudly holds a “Just Keep Swimming” flag in honor of her friend she lost to suicide, Dylan Salge.

Frances Bottorff, Reporter

The Navigating Emotions and Stress Through Training (NESTT) center is a mental health safe space on the third floor of City High. The NESTT is home to volunteers who take shifts in the center, including City High’s two Student Family Advocates (SFAs) Thos Trefz and Katie Vodraska. 

“It’s probably easier to describe what we don’t do. I feel like we’re the kind of jack of all trades, you know,” Trefz said. 

Although it’s not required to be a social worker in order to be an SFA, both Trefz and Vodraska are licensed social workers. 

“The way I tend to describe [what we do] is helping students with problems at home or problems in the community or with peers or teachers. It could be because they don’t have the resources they need at home, or maybe they don’t have a home. It’s our job to figure out what those needs are, and figure out how to best support them with resources we have at school or resources in the community,” Trefz explained. 

West High, Liberty High, and City High are all equipped with two SFA’s. However, City High is the only high school out of the three to have a NESTT. 

Vodraska explained that staff members are working closely with West High and Liberty High to create something similar to the NESTT at each respective school. 

“We are working closely with them to open [a NESTT] in West and Liberty, as well as other schools, like some of the junior highs, and some elementary schools who are also looking at the same model,” Vodraska said.

As of right now, Southeast Junior High is equipped with a NESTT, as well as Horace Mann Elementary School. If a student is struggling, both Trefz and Vodraska encourage students to talk to someone they trust. 

“The goal is that hopefully every student feels like they have an adult that they could approach,” Trefz explained.

Another resource that has been implemented throughout the Iowa City area is the “I’m Glad You Stayed” project, which is a mental health organization created by West High senior Abbey Schley in 2021. 

“Our main goal is to educate the public, especially teenagers, on real-time suicide prevention actions, like how to help your friend or family member in a crisis. I learned a lot of these tips from real experience. I don’t want to see anybody else go through that,” Schley said.

Schley also explained that something that can be helpful is having information about your friends and family on hand. In emergency situations, that information can be crucial. 

“One big thing that I have taken away from this whole experience is having your friend’s parents phone numbers and home addresses. If their parents are divorced, and they go back and forth, [make sure] you have both of those addresses,” Schley explained.

Schley recommends being vulnerable with your friends, because she has found that when she opens up to people, they end up feeling more comfortable. 

“If you want someone to open up to you about their feelings, it’s going to be hard if you don’t feel like you can be honest with them,” Schley said. “I think it’s been really helpful for me to open up to people first, and then they’re more likely to tell me what they’ve been thinking and from there, I can see what they need.”

Schley has made it clear that the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) needs to do more when it comes to providing mental health resources for students. 

“I’ve been pushing the school district for months to get better mental health resources out [to students]. What they’re doing isn’t enough, period,” Schley said.

Schley created a petition called, “Mental Health Education and Resources in the ICCSD.” As of March 29, 2022 it has 895 signatures. 

“I’m hoping to get 1,000 signatures on the petition and then share it with the superintendent, to say, ‘Hey, 1,000 people think that this is an issue.’ I just want to show how many people want to see change,” Schley said.

Schley strongly believes that there should be more discussion in school about what to do if you’re struggling with mental health. 

“One hundred percent I think [more discussion] would be a positive thing. I think kids would realize that these feelings are normal for our age. High school sucks. If people can see, ‘Oh, other people are having these thoughts too,’ they won’t feel so alone and isolated,” Schley explained. 

Schley made it clear that conversations around mental health would not be harmful to students, but instead do the opposite.

“Kids need the resources. I think the school district is worried that it’s going to traumatize us or trigger us. But we’re traumatized and triggered every day. If you have to face another friend dying, you’d be traumatized when you go to your friend’s funeral,” Schley answered. 

With the implementation of the NESTT and the “I’m Glad You Stayed” project, there is hope that more mental health aid can be offered to students.