Governor Terry McAuliffe announced recently the Commonwealth has been awarded two five-year federal grants totaling nearly $13.3 million to improve mental health services for students and expand programs to make schools safer by reducing violence and disruptive behavior.
A five-year “Project Aware” grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will provide more than $9.7 million between now and 2018 to support statewide training for teachers and other public school employees to respond to mental health issues in children and youth; and connect troubled students with appropriate community- and school-based services.
The Project Aware grant also will fund pilot programs in three school divisions — Montgomery County, Pulaski County and Fairfax County — to create safer learning environments by improving communication and coordination between public schools, mental health service providers and other public and private agencies that focus on the well-being of children and young adults.
In addition, a five-year “School Climate Transformation” grant from the U.S. Department of Education will provide more than $3.5 million to expand the “Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports” (PBIS) program to 45 additional school divisions. The PBIS approach to improving behavior and safety emphasizes consistent schoolwide rules, consequences and reinforcements for appropriate conduct, and intensive support and services for students engaging in disruptive behavior.
Currently, 61 of the Commonwealth’s 132 school divisions have implemented the PBIS approach. Funding from the School Climate Transformation grant will support training and technical assistance for the additional school divisions and supplement the nearly $1 million in annual state funding appropriated by the 2014 General Assembly for PBIS implementation.
Virginia is one of only nine states whose applications for the two grants were approved. States were required to explain in their applications how funded services would be integrated into a broader initiative to improve school climate and the well-being of students.
“This is a big win for Virginia schools, students, families and communities,” Governor McAuliffe said. “I want to thank the team of state agencies, led by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), that collaborated on these grant applications for their successful efforts, and for their vision for improving mental health services for students and for making our schools safer places for students and staff.”
“These grants will allow schools, mental health care providers, juvenile justice agencies, law enforcement and other organizations that interact with schools and students to address collaboratively the critical and overlapping issues of school safety and mental health,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said. “By educating school personnel and other adults who come in contact with youth about what to look for, children that have or are at risk of mental or behavioral health conditions can receive referrals and treatment more quickly. At the same time, hundreds of additional schools will be able to implement a proven approach to preventing violence, bullying and other disruptive behaviors that interfere with student learning.”
The Project Aware funding will support the training, beginning this fall, of as many as 750 teachers and others annually in “Mental Health First Aid,” an internationally recognized course on identifying and responding to persons who are developing a mental health condition or experiencing a mental health crisis.
The following state agencies are collaborating with VDOE in implementing the Project Aware grant: Department of Medical Assistance Services, Department of Social Services, Department of Health, Department of Juvenile Justice Services, Department of Criminal Justice Services, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, and Office of Comprehensive Services. Two non-profit organizations — Voices for Virginia Children and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia — are also participating.
The 45 additional school divisions implementing PBIS with funding from the School Climate Transformation grant will be selected through an application process developed by VDOE.