Valley City Public Schools started its “Access for All” program in the fall of 2016. It started small — with a limited number of students leaving school to see a counselor. There was a 4-6 week waiting list.

That changed last spring at a meeting following a student’s death by suicide.

At that meeting, we all, with tears in our eyes, sat and said, we cannot wait any longer. We can’t just swim in the shallow end and just say it’s going to go away. And so we all just were like jumped in and said that was the moment where we all decided we need to have a counselor here and we need to like be proactive with it and help the kids that need the help right now.

Nicole Powers is a veteran kindergarten teacher and president of the school’s education foundation that made the decision to raise money to provide expanded counseling services within the school.

Now we are we are able to meet the needs of the students,” Powers said.

Talia Germann is one of those students. Germann, a senior, says Access for All has been life-changing.

This program has helped me realize that I don’t have to do everything by myself. I don’t have to go through hard times by myself. And there’s people that love me and there are people that support me and they believe in me. And without this program, I might not be here today. And now I’m living dreams that I never thought I could live.

Germann says when she realized the impact of her experience — she recognized its potential for the school and community.

And I think that programs like this are what schools need when they go through hard times because students don’t know how to do it by themselves. So knowing that there is a program that will take care of you if you need that help is very powerful in my eyes. Because I think if you go through something as hard as losing a student or a friend or a classmate, you know, you need support. And this program has provided that support,” Germann said.

Valley City Superintendent Josh Johnson calls what’s happening in Valley City and all across North Dakota a crisis and says the student’s needs are real.

You haven’t had a conversation with a student regarding mental health and some of the challenges that they bring with them to school, then you need to get out of the office. You need to get into a school and you need to find out what’s really happening, because the experiences and the challenges that our students facing right now in 2020 are are, I think, greater than what whatever, whatever has been experienced to this point.

Johnson says Access for All helps students have better experiences in school, providing a process for interventions at any age—ultimately helping to provide a safer learning environment for students and educators.

  • This story was produced as part of a series spotlighting behavioral health programs in K-12 schools across North Dakota. Video was shot pre-pandemic, and before face masks and social distancing measures were implemented. If you have a story to tell about how your school is supporting students’ social and emotional needs, please contact ND United Director of Public Affairs Tom Gerhardt at