SHERIDAN — This semester, Michele Fritz is serving as a social work intern with Sheridan County School District 1 Tongue River schools, increasing the level of attention counselors are able to give to students and potentially having the state look at adding an integral role in the school system to help students thrive.

Fritz is currently enrolled in the second year of a master’s degree in social work at the University of Wyoming. Last year, Fritz had a practicum at Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center as part of her degree. Originally from Ohio, Fritz has lived in Dayton for 18 years and has owned Kula Space yoga studio in Sheridan for 10 years.

“I’ve really loved the whole process of being a business owner and I’m very passionate about wellness. And through that experience, I felt like I needed more education to really serve people the most effectively,” Fritz said.

“I was just kind of craving something different but in the same kind of purpose and wellness aspect of what I’m passionate about.”

Fritz, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, said she felt the social work program fit her personality more than counseling for its focus on bigger-picture thinking about the entire system. The master’s program students spend a lot of time in coursework looking at the broader picture through community and society functioning and policy and how they’re all intertwined, working with groups, working with individuals and working in the macro setting.

Since she has a son in Tongue River Middle School and a daughter at Tongue River High School, Fritz already had a relationship with the school staff, and she said they’ve been highly supportive of her through the process.

Tongue River Middle School counselor Keri Braunberger, who Fritz has been shadowing, said that with the current ratio of about 378 students to each counselor, Fritz has been a huge help and worked well with the students.

Fritz said most of her time is spent working with students individually and in small groups to support their individual education plans and help them develop social-emotional skills, whether they have ongoing counseling goals or more immediate needs.

Fritz also had the opportunity to work with elementary school teacher Carolyn Hill, who offered a parenting with love and logic class and is serving as an adult advisor at the high school for the Sources of Strength suicide prevention program.

“I think it’s making a difference,” Fritz said. “It’s hope and strength and resilience rather than trauma and shock and sad stories.”

When Fritz was first talking with the district, she envisioned more of a parent liaison goal but learned the counselors are already in close contact with many of the parents. She was surprised by the number of students struggling with social-emotional competencies and mental health issues that affect their learning and academics while being resilient and strong.

“We can learn something new from the kids at our schools every single day if we’re willing to listen.”

Since the district only has four counselors split between the two sides of the district, SCSD1 Superintendent Peter Kilbride said having Fritz on board to teach some of the classes has significantly freed up the other counselors. Kilbride also said while the position is not currently in the state funding model, the district has wanted to increase social support for a long time, and Fritz’s work could perhaps help the district make the case to the state.

“The need has been there forever,” Kilbride said. “We feel very strongly that it’s a need, so we intend to look at it very, very seriously to try to make it a permanent position.”