Poudre School District is proud to be among three school districts, selected by the Colorado Department of Education, to participate in a four-year, grant-funded initiative called Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education).
As a Project AWARE district, PSD will receive a total of $1.56 million to amplify mental health work that is already underway, as well as grow mental health programs and services. The initiative aligns with the district’s priority of mental health and increasing a sense of belonging for all students, as part of PSD’s forthcoming Strategic Plan.
“Our students have said, in no uncertain terms, that PSD and the community must be responsive to their mental health needs,” said Superintendent Brian Kingsley. “Children and young adults are struggling and wisely want to equip themselves with knowledge and skills that support living physically and emotionally healthy lives. That is nothing short of honorable. And it requires collective action to address a complex and pervasive problem.”
“This grant is incredibly significant and requires celebration,” he added. “And yet, it represents only one among many existing and needed resources to move our work forward.”
PSD will submit a work plan, outlining next steps, by the end of May and update the plan annually thereafter. Over the four years, PSD will work closely with the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration, community-based providers of mental and behavioral health care services, school personnel, community organizations, families and school-aged children. Data and collaboration will play an important role in the plan and work moving forward.
“The importance of working with our staff, students, families and community partners is critically important,” said Liz Davis, director of the Student Services Department, made up of school counselors, mental health specialists, behavior interventionists, school nurses and more. “Working together with our schools, we look forward to building upon existing successes to create more mental and behavioral health, and social-emotional learning infrastructures.”
Federal funding (about $390,000 annually) supports the goals of Project AWARE, which include increasing the mental health awareness and literacy of school-aged children, as well as the individuals who support them; fostering wellbeing; and detecting signs of mental illness, substance use and misuse, and co-occurring disorders.
The youth of our community are facing more complex challenges than, perhaps, ever before and need support, partnership and opportunities. This challenge is not unique to PSD, which is why it is critical to address not only on a district level, but as a community. The school district cannot solve this problem alone.
In the most recent Healthy Kids Colorado Survey given to secondary students in 2021, 43.3% of female high school students surveyed in PSD said they felt so sad or hopeless on an ongoing basis that they stopped doing some usual activities. This is an increase of almost 10% since the last survey in 2019. Out of all the high school students surveyed, 15% of male students, 33.2% of female students and 69.1% of queer/nonbinary students reported purposefully hurting themselves without wanting to die in the past 12 months.
These and other PSD and state statistics are striking and affirm the need for more work. Students have asked for more safe spaces outside of school; training to support mental health, such as in de-regulation; increased awareness of mental health resources available to students and decreased stigma; and improved access to mental health professionals. Students and their families are experiencing significant wait times to see a mental health professional in the community, sometimes as much as 6 months. Simply put, there are not enough people to meet current needs.
That said, the Project AWARE grant represents a tremendous boon for PSD students.
“It’s critical to have the capacity to be responsive to and meet the needs of our schools, district and community through comprehensive development of tiered mental and behavioral health infrastructure,” said Leah Hager, the PSD behavior prevention and intervention coordinator. “This (grant) is going to leverage our ability to do that.”