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$9 million grant allows Indiana schools to improve mental health programs



Indiana was given a $9 million grant Sept. 13 to improve mental health programs. The Indiana Department of Education distributed the funds to three different schools so the schools can pair with local community centers to improve mental health and wellness in the area.

Vigo County School Corporation, Perry Central Community School Corporation and Avon Community School Corporation received the grant money. The grant comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

Stephanie Bode, assistant principal of Avon High School, compared students’ health to an imaginary backpack. Students carry problems inside of that backpack, which the teachers can’t see. 

“We talked about the things that kids carry that we don’t see,” Bode said.

Bode said there are many factors going on behind the scenes that teachers don’t see, and teachers should meet students where they are. 

Adam Baker, the press secretary for the Indiana Department of Education, said it is the responsibility of the school corporations and community centers to create secondary sites. The goal of the grant money is to allow the model training sites to get enough momentum to be able to fund themselves by the time the money runs out. 

The grant, called the Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education grant, aims to improve mental health around the state as well as set up model centers that can help create more programs. The Department of Education does not have a part in choosing which schools become secondary sites of the program.

Baker said the school districts were chosen based upon prerequisites such as their existing mental health programs, the presence of a community center and interest in becoming a model site.  

Another factor that affected the schools chosen was the desire to have the schools reflect Indiana’s demographic landscape. Rural, suburban and urban districts were all represented. 

Avon was chosen as the suburban district, Bode said. Avon stood out as a good option because of its investment in students’ mental health. The school has a mental wellness week, where it educates students about different coping strategies. Avon also received a Lilly Grant to improve their mental health programs in 2017.

“One of the things districts have said for a long, long time is we need socioemotional well-being support in schools,” Baker said. “We need to be able to reach these children.”

Perry Central was chosen to help study rural districts, and Vigo County is the representative for urban districts. Baker said another perk to this setup was the fact that it would make creating more model sites easier because they could see what problems may arise in different settings and how to combat them. 

For the stipulations of the grant itself, much of the information is left up to the individual schools, Bode said. The grant specifies some of the money is to be used to hire a full-time coordinator for the program.

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