More mental health funding for schools and students is coming to Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education was awarded a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services AWARE grant, the third program of its kind running concurrently in the state.
The grant money will go toward resources and treatment for students as the pandemic continues to take a toll on kids, according to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
“We’ve gone after these grants, which are the AWARE grant, which provides for that kind of support for communities where the need is the greatest and the support is thin,” she said.
About $9 million in funding will go toward trauma-informed mental health resources in schools in Davis, Lawton and Sulphur, OSDE said in a statement.
“…The personnel to be able to be right there, on the ground, in schools but also community partnerships with other mental health providers,” Hofmeister said.
She said the programs support staff as well. The AWARE grant program goals include providing mental health training for school personnel, a reduction in discipline referrals, suspensions and expulsions, and universal mental health screenings and medical referrals for students.
“In Oklahoma, I think in reality, we’re seeing that day to day, patients are having more depression, anxiety, both acute and now chronic stress prolonged,” said Dr. Ami Bax, a developmental and behavioral pediatric at OU College of Medicine.
Students have faced high levels of disruption and isolation, but Bax said many of these issues are not new.
“I think we’ve shed light through the pandemic on problems that have existed for quite some time,” Bax said.
About $30 million in AWARE grants serve schools including ones in Ada and Elk City.
"The Oklahoma AWARE South grant will parallel the work of two other five-year grants, Project AWARE East, serving Ada, Atoka and Checotah public schools; and Project AWARE West, serving Elk City, Weatherford and Woodward public schools,” OSDE said in a statement.
This funding is in addition to the $35.7 million in grant money for schools to hire additional counselors and mental health staff through the newly founded Oklahoma School Counselor Corps. More than 180 schools received federal relief money through the program.
The objectives of the grant include providing a minimum of 15 hours of mental health training per year for school personnel, a reduction in discipline referrals, suspensions and expulsions, universal mental health screenings and medical referrals for students.
The latest Project AWARE grant comes after Hofmeister directed OSDE to award $35.7 million in grants to 181 school districts across the state to hire additional school counselors and school-based mental health professionals. The Oklahoma School Counselor Corps was funded in June through federal pandemic relief dollars.