Group helps provide support for students

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For some young students, life can get in the way of learning — an issue Intermountain Services hopes to remedy.

Intermountain is a Helena-based nonprofit that creates supportive environments that promote healthy change and growth for students dealing with home and family crises. It is bringing services into Muldown Elementary School beginning this fall after the Whitefish School Board previously approved a one-year contract with the nonprofit.

Intermountain CEO Jim FitzGerald has been with the organization for 40 years and says Intermountain provides a myriad of services tailored to whomever they’re trying to help. Intermountain serves about 1,000 children who are enrolled in services daily primarily in Whitefish, Bigfork, Polson, Missoula, Helena and Bozeman.

“Intermountain is 109 years old, we were founded in the Helena Valley as a Methodist orphanage back in the day. We have evolved over the century from an orphanage to a child welfare and mental health organization,” FitzGerald told the Pilot.

Intermountain has been operating in the Flathead Valley for the last decade or so, FitzGerald said. Intermountain has a group home in Somers and started daytime services in Bigfork Elementary School last year.

“About 12 years ago, our board wanted to expand in to the Flathead Valley, and we’ve always had lots of donors in the Flathead Valley and we saw a lot of needs for services,” he said. “We originally entered the Valley about a decade ago providing crisis care for kids who were removed from their families in the middle of the night and things like that.”

“We were basically invited in, which is pretty much our approach, we like to be invited in to provide needed services that we feel we’re competent at,” FitzGerald added.

At Muldown, Intermountain will get a dedicated classroom and employ a special education teacher, a licensed clinician and an additional support staff member as part of their day treatment services.

“So there’s three adults in the room, and we’ll probably average six to eight kids this first year. We will be providing integrated education and therapeutic services in that self-contained setting for the kids that are referred to our program,” FitzGerald. “So it’s an integrated approach in regard to understanding their specialized learning needs on the one hand, but also understanding their therapeutic needs on the other and how those two worlds interact and oftentimes can make these children very challenging to instruct.”

However, with different learning styles and different needs for each child, managing that variety in services every day can be a challenge, FitzGerald said.

“While our DNA and our philosophical approach is the same applied to every single kid, how that’s applied is a different recipe because every one of their issues and needs is very unique. So rather than running a cookie cutter program, our staff are challenged with having several treatment plans, and being able to differentially read and feel and understand the children and respond to them at that moment according to that child’s needs. There’s a lot of complexity that goes with it,” he said.

So far he’s been impressed with Muldown’s enthusiasm, he said.

FitzGerald said Intermountain put together a short book on their services and treatment methods and distributed a few to a number of schools in the area.

When he heard back from Muldown, it was for a request for dozens more copies of the book.

“You have a professional staff there who really want to understand and help these kids,” he said. “They don’t want to send these kids out of their building. They don’t want to send them off site, they want to be able to meet their needs early and thoroughly in their own district. And that’s a real testament to leadership.”

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