Bolstered by an anonymous donation of $500,000, the school division is significantly expanding student mental health programs and services over the next two years. The School Board recently approved the use of the grant to fund a division-wide program to broaden support for students in crisis. Included is mental health first aid training for employees who work directly with students.
The grant also will enable the division to hire an experienced mental health professional who will coordinate the work of school counselors, school psychologists, and community partners in how best to address the mental health needs of students in all grade levels. The division also will contract with an outside mental health agency to deliver direct mental health services to students and their families within schools.
“The foundation of our mission for the healthy development of all students has three components, all essential—promoting and safeguarding a student’s academic, social and emotional development,” said Kevin Kirst, the division’s Executive Director of Special Education and Student Services. “This grant and the resources it will add to our capabilities advance our progress,” he said.
Two recent events, Kirst added, have added to the urgency of deepening support for student mental health: changes at the state level that have reduced therapeutic day treatment services for hundreds of students in the division, and the pandemic, which can raise student anxiety levels by limiting the personal interaction between teachers and students and among students.
The grant builds upon recent student mental health investments by the school division, which began two years ago with the addition of more full-time school counselors in the division’s 25 schools.
Last year, the state of Virginia announced changes to its Therapeutic Day Treatment Program, which resulted in substantially fewer students qualifying for services. The program funds such interventions as individualized therapy for any child who is experiencing a mental health trauma in school.
“These are the quality of services that have made it possible to support children in their neighborhood school, to remain in the classroom, learning with their peers and teachers. We disagreed with the eligibility restrictions for the Therapeutic Day Treatment Program that reduced the number of children who could benefit from these services. Our new grant will allow us to restore professional support to hundreds of our students who were impacted by these eligibility reductions,” Kirst said.
Under the training plan now being developed, Kirst compared its objective to the assistance school division employees now provide when emergency first aid is needed for a physical injury. “We want to be able to triage social and emotional injuries any student may be experiencing through an organized, disciplined, evidence-based approach,” he said.
More broadly, Kirst said, the grant will complement the work of school counselors and classroom teachers that support social and emotional learning on an on-going basis for all students. It will make it possible for the division to increase its development of activities and curriculum that can be utilized during the school day, such as the morning meetings that have become a staple of an elementary student’s schedule. He said major components of the program, such as the hiring of the Coordinator of Mental Health Services and the engagement of an outside mental health agency to provide direct services, should be completed by the spring, with the employee training program underway by the summer and in full implementation by the next school year.
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Strategic Communications Officer