(9/17/18) The Louisiana Department of Education today announced the state is the recipient of a $9 million grant to expand mental health services to students to support health development and prevent youth violence. Louisiana has been awarded the Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education (Project AWARE) grant through the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“In order to truly serve every child, every day, we must understand and meet their learning needs, as well as their social and emotional needs,” said State Superintendent John White. “Through Project AWARE, Louisiana has the opportunity to develop and implement practices to better accomplish this in struggling schools across the state.”
The competitive grant program will award $1.8 million to Louisiana each year for five years. The Department, in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), will utilize this funding to establish a comprehensive Louisiana School Mental Health Support Program. The multi-faceted program aligns to the mission of Project AWARE and aims to increase awareness of mental health issues among school-aged youth, to provide specialized training to school personnel on how to detect and respond to mental health issues, and to connect students struggling with behavioral or mental health issues and their families to the appropriate services.
“The 2016 Louisiana Caring Communities Youth Survey reveals the need for mental health treatment in the schools, as it reflects an increase in need in each grade level from 6th to 12th. The largest change occurred in Grade 12, reflecting an increase in mental health needs from 21.7 percent in 2014 to 24.7 percent in 2016,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Dr. Janice Petersen, who oversees community programs within LDH’s Office of Behavioral Health. “We know that this partnership is drastically needed to address a comprehensive approach for our school-aged youth. The Office of Behavioral Health looks forward to providing staff support and contributing to the mental health outcomes for student success within the selected school districts.”
The program will be prioritized in 34 struggling schools in the City of Monroe, Jefferson Parish and St. Bernard Parish school systems. These schools were previously identified by the state as having high rates of referrals for out-of-school discipline, and the school systems in which they are located were required to submit plans on how they would improve each site during the 2018-2019 school year.
“Officials in healthcare, law enforcement, and education are keenly aware of the severe mental health challenges facing us today,” said Jefferson Parish Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley. “The support from this grant will complement our work to meet the varied and diverse needs of our students, placing them in a safe mental space for learning.”
“The ultimate goal of any school system is one of increase academic success and social mastery, but for some students, these goals are not attainable until foundational issues of mental health are addressed,” said St. Bernard Parish Public Schools Superintendent Doris Voitier, who also serves on the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Schools have a unique opportunity to provide access and support for students with psychological difficulties to remove barriers for further student achievement.”
The grant award comes as education leaders in Louisiana continue efforts to renew the state’s approach to behavior intervention and to improve alternative education settings. Throughout the coming weeks, a year after study group findings made a case for change, the Department will propose a new process for ensuring that alternative education schools and programs certified by the state meet the terms of the law, as well as a system of rating alternative schools that rewards appropriately those schools who help students get back on track.