Summit School District receives $250,000 mental health grant | SummitDaily.com

Summit School District receives $250,000 mental health grant

The Summit School District on Monday was named one of five recipients across the state for a total of nearly $1.5 million in funding to advance social and emotional wellness programs.

The Thriving Schools grants are a part of a national initiative from Kaiser Permanente to improve access to behavioral health resources in regions where it offers care. Schools in Colorado were asked to submit proposals this past September, and, along with districts on the Front Range and the northern and southern corners of the state, Summit was selected out of more than 20 applicants.

Specifically, the local public school system will accept $244,000 over three years to aid its Safe Kids Summit County project at three of the district's six elementary buildings: Dillon Valley, Silverthorne and Breckenridge's Upper Blue. Eventually, Summit hopes for full implementation at the other three elementary schools after finding other funding sources.

The Safe Kids curriculum imparts training for teachers and staff to identify potential emotional deficiencies in students before they become larger issues. The district said those three schools were chosen because each has the largest at-risk populations, based on a mix of free- or reduced lunch students, minority groups and English language learners.

"We've definitely seen that social-emotional need grow in the last few years," said Kendra Carpenter, principal of Dillon Valley Elementary. "We're a highly impacted school concerning socioeconomics and sometimes instability at the home, and of course those impact mental health. We've been asking for more support, and this will add a prevention layer rather than just being reactionary. It's going to let us do a whole lot more prevention."

As a lead administrator at one the district's elementary schools, Carpenter believes the added reserves — about $27,000 per school for the life of the three-year grant cycle — will help teachers learn the skills and techniques for how to best provide for individual student needs. It's important, she said, for those on the "front line" who have the most contact with students on a daily basis to recognize when extra support is necessary, rather than relying solely on guidance counselors to step in.

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The announcement coincides with the beginning of May's National Mental Health Month, as well as the launch of a Kaiser public health awareness campaign called "Find Your Words." The new drive aims to start a community dialogue about depression in an effort to combat stigma surrounding mental illness. In addition to television, radio and online advertisements, a website (FindYourWords.org) presents interactive information and resources to all for behavioral health and wellness.

"We don't believe in just signing checks," said Carmen Martin, senior community health specialist at Kaiser Permanente Colorado. "We want to provide wraparound services and supply those internal assets, especially to help support the schools."

Martin was part of the team that read through each of the Thriving Schools grant applications. She said she was especially impressed by Summit's proposal — the only one of the five awarded that focused exclusively on early childhood — as well as the district's level of engagement with the community to establish matching funds, ensuring long-term continuation of the program.

"That really speaks to its sustainability," said Martin. "We're really excited to learn from the Summit School District about what works for early childhood, so we're walking along in this as true partners."

For the past few months, Kaiser has been offering schools throughout Colorado, with priority for grant recipients, the chance to host a program that also aims to reduce typical assumptions regarding mental health conditions. Through a progressive play called "People Like Vince" and an associated workshop, children in second-to-sixth grade learn about an uncle who is bipolar, and goes off his medications, through the eyes of his adoring niece.

So far, 13,000 students at nearly 50 schools have seen the production, and Kaiser said the hour-long platform has been shown to increase an understanding of mental illness for both students and school staff. The plan is for the program to carry on well beyond the end of National Mental Health Month as part of the overall stigma reduction campaign.

The Thriving Schools grant dollars will be released to schools this August. The four other public school district beneficiaries are Boulder Valley and Cherry Creek on the Front Range, Thompson near Fort Collins and Fountain-Fort Carson near Colorado Springs.

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