By ruth erickson

At its July 8 meeting, the Rice Lake Board of Education welcomed news that the Rice Lake School District has been recommended for funding of $73,865 by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in its School-based Mental Health Services Grant Program.

Announced by state superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, she stated, “This has been a very competitive grant process. The number of applicants and the amount requested to support student mental health far exceeded the amount allocated for this purpose.

“The response to this grant program demonstrates the great need in our state to grow school mental health supports. Considering the intense competition and thorough review process, you should be proud that your application received approval.”

Rice Lake School District pupil services director Sue Strouf  named the grant writing team and thanked them for dedicating their time to it, a coordinated effort that resulted in a positive outcome. They included Josh Morey, Chris Christofferson, Amanda Brown, Jessica Ebner and herself.

Strouf said the first year of the 2-year grant will involve hiring a mental health navigator to provide navigation services and take over some of the social worker duties to free up district social worker Josh Morey so he can pursue clinical licensure.

The grant application noted, “The Rice Lake Area School District has faced an increasing number of students and families with unmet health needs over the past 5 years.

“In response to this, the district has adopted a professional development model that supports all staff with implementing trauma-sensitive practices in addition to hiring a Social and Emotional Learning support staff member at the elementary level. Systems such as PBIS and universal instruction in social-emotional learning at the elementary level have also been implemented.”

It continued, “In spite of this, the district continues to see an increase in unmet needs, illustrated by the number of seclusions, restraints, suspensions for students referred for school-based mental health services. Further supports are needed.

“Our district feels that the addition of the following four key elements can make a substantial difference with increasing student access to mental health services:

• Mental health navigator to support families with navigating mental health services and accessing services for their children.

• Mental health screening to identify students with internalizing behaviors.

• Additional psychoeducational groups to reach an increased number of  students. (A 15% increase is the goal).

• Youth mental health first aid training for all licensed staff, paraprofessionals/aides, community partners and families.

Strouf said Middle School guidance counselor Nicole Weinstock will be the district trainer. She will develop and implement a 2-year training plan in which half of all district staff will be trained each year.

The grant application ended noting the district is confident that with the addition of the proposed mental health services  it will identify students in need of mental health supports; increase student access to mental health supports; provide social-emotional practices to meet student needs; and provide staff, families and community members with training to improve knowledge of mental health challenges and skills for responding to them.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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