A $5 million federal grant awarded to Battle Ground Public Schools will be a boon to the district as it addresses student mental and behavioral health, the grant application’s writer says.
On Oct. 25, BGPS announced the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded the Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (Project AWARE) grant to the district. Of the 21 organizations selected for the grant nationwide, the district was the only school district in Washington state to receive the latest round of funding.
The $5 million will be administered over a five-year period and will fund new or renewed efforts by the district, such as increasing mental health services access and helping staff meet students’ social, emotional and behavioral needs.
The district previously received the Project AWARE grant in 2014. That year’s grant included implementing “positive behavioral intervention and supports” methods, drug and alcohol prevention and intervention, as well as mental health support, BGPS Director of Instructional Interventions Tamra Scheetz said.
“Having been through it the first time and seeing the significant impact that it had on our system and on the supports that we were able to provide to students, I am just thrilled that we are going to be able to do this a second time around,” Scheetz said.
This year’s grant will continue some of the mental health work that has been impacted by the pandemic. Alongside being unable to offer community-based education when in-person meeting wasn’t possible, mental health providers the district partners with have had staffing difficulties, which has impacted what support can be provided in district buildings, Scheetz said. Both of those issues are areas the grant will address.
“Because we received it in the past, we knew the power of what we were able to accomplish the first time around,” Scheetz said.
Scheetz said putting the grant application together took about a month and involved working with administration and business staff to figure out what BGPS needed. She said SAMHSA required applicants to be specific in what the grant would fund.
After the late April deadline passed, Scheetz was told the district wouldn’t find out if it received the grant until late summer, with the funding coming in the next day, Scheetz said. She said the district found out a few weeks earlier, however, to allow it some time to prepare to use the funding.
BGPS didn’t know if SAMHSA would consider awarding a grant to the district that had already received prior funding, Scheetz said.
“What we learned is that they were impressed by the fact that we did have it once before, and we have sustained a lot of the supports and services that were put in place the first time,” Scheetz said.
She said SAMHSA didn’t want the programs it funds through grants to sunset when the funding did, but instead hoped the grant would serve as a catalyst to keep the services as a permanent part of district operations.
Part of the new round of funds will be used to hire intervention coordinators at Battle Ground and Prairie high schools. Scheetz said those positions will use data on student needs to make sure they receive proper intervention support.
Given the size of those schools, sometimes individual efforts by staff duplicates support, while in other cases students are missed, Scheetz said. The new positions will serve as a “hub” for the schools to make sure supports are provided effectively.
The grant application included district data from the statewide Healthy Youth Survey, a regular study that shows trends in topics including drug exposure and use, mental health, bullying and violence.
The most recent data from 2021 showed a significant number of students in eighth and 10th grade experience anxiety, depression and feeling disconnected, Scheetz said. Some of those experiences are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Issues facing youth have changed since the last time BGPS applied for the grant, which required the district to adapt how it approached meeting the needs of students this time around, Scheetz said.
As a result, one of the focuses for the new funding is developing a way to teach students coping skills at the high school level. Scheetz said BGPS currently teaches those skills in younger grades.
“It’s pretty common to focus on teaching those skills to younger kids, but we don’t talk as much about how to teach those skills in a developmentally appropriate way to our students in high school, and it’s critical right now,” Scheetz said.
Scheetz said the grant will support efforts to identify students in all grades at risk of “internalizing” issues like anxiety. Those students are ones struggling in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.
As well as identifying the students, she said the district will need to have interventions in place to fill needs once they are discovered.
The district will be forming a committee to help develop the plan, which Scheetz expects will be in the next few weeks. She said the complicated nature of some of what is planned means those parts of the plan won’t be operational until the second or third year of the grant.
“It will be a while before staff and community members actually see these things fully in place in the buildings,” Scheetz said.
Following the uncertainty of whether or not the district would receive the grant a second time, Scheetz is excited to be able to see the $5 million get put to use.