PENNSAUKEN, N.J. — The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Pennsauken School District with a $1.6 million grant to address the issue of mental health. The district was one of only 27 schools nationwide to receive the grant.
Over the course of the next five years, Pennsauken will allocate the grant funds towards assessing the current state of mental health services, as well as collaborating with local and national agencies to maximize student mental health interventions and supports.
Pennsauken School District psychologist and author of the grant Alexandra Pensiero, said that it’s important that students have a good mindset when coming into school in order for learning to take place.
“Sometimes after commuting in traffic, we are not always going into work with the best mindframe, but we can redirect our minds,” Pensiero said. “Unfortunately sometimes children have a harder time with that.”
According the the US Department of Education, the Mental Health Demonstration Grant Program provides the grant money to school districts to “support innovative partnerships to train and deploy school-based mental health service providers in schools. The purpose is to expand the pipeline of high-quality, trained professionals to address shortages of mental health services in high-need schools, and to provide supports that encompass social and emotional learning, mental wellness, resilience, and positive connections between students and adults.”
“The first step is to close the gap in services provided,” Pensiero said. “So, we will be hiring more counselors and psychologists to focus on providing therapeutic services rather than involvement in state testing and other school activities not related to mental health.”
Pensiero, who is co-director of the grant along with Thomas Cox, a mental health clinician will oversee services, also said that the district will be updating crisis policies and begin monthly parent night that focuses on mental health issues.
“Will begin having parent nights this January complete with food and transportation provided all paid for by the grant,” she said. “And trained screeners are currently working on evaluating student needs. They should be done by December 19.”
The district will work with Rowan University to train future mental health providers, such as psychologists and counselors. “Already have 9 people from Rowan who will be starting in January,” Pensiero said.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had announced $71.6 million overall in new funding nation wide to enhance safety in schools and improve student access to mental health resources.
“Our nation’s schools must be safe places to learn, where students feel connected and supported,” Secretary DeVos said in a press release. “These grants allow local leaders to tailor their approach to school safety and mental health in ways that meet their students’ individual needs and their particular school’s unique challenges.”
Services will be offered to students from January, 2020, to the end of the school year.
“Next year we will start earlier,” Pensiero said. “Since we only received word on September 30 that we got the grant, it takes some time to get it up and running.”
The grant will run through September 30, 2024.