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Schools will receive nearly $1.5 million in Dane County grants to support mental health

Schools will receive nearly $1.5 million in Dane County grants to support mental health

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Mental health is near the top among the broad range of concerns for students as the world creeps toward a return to normalcy.

Many spent more than a year in virtual learning, with some still not attending school in person, and those who have returned to buildings have found it to be a different experience than pre-pandemic school. Dane County announced Tuesday that it would distribute nearly $1.5 million to area school districts to aid their mental health efforts, which will last beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money comes from federal stimulus funds provided to the county.

“We know the behavioral health needs of young people will outlast this pandemic, so this assistance is designed to get extra supports in place prior to heading back to school this fall,” County Executive Joe Parisi said in a press release.

The Madison Metropolitan School District will receive the largest grant at $454,754, followed by the Verona Area School District at $450,000. The Oregon School District will receive about $103,000, while the Middleton-Cross Plains, Mount Horeb, Waunakee, Wisconsin Heights, Monona Grove, Lodi, DeForest and Belleville school districts will receive between $7,000 and $72,101.

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The funds will be used for a variety of efforts, including funding staff positions, purchasing materials, assisting in trainings, resources to address bullying and a focus on suicide prevention.

In MMSD, the grant will fund two “mental health navigator” positions, which mental health coordinator Kristen Guetschow said will be “designed to support families, walking alongside them to help navigate the systems that are out there to support our students and families.” It will also add a bilingual resource specialist who can help school-based staff with translation and focus on supporting direct interpretation with families.

“One of the reasons I really appreciate this grant is I think it’s really been increasing the conversation around the mental health needs of our students and families,” Guetschow said. “Anything that elevates that conversation is wonderful, and when there’s funding attached to it that’s always appreciated.”

Guetschow said she appreciates collaborative efforts between schools and the county, “a model we’re going to need going forward,” because it requires community support to make significant progress on student mental health. Within the district, she said, it fits into a larger picture of mental health support that staff know will be needed in the coming year.

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“Any one of these is just one piece to the puzzle,” she said. “This grant is great because it’s a bridge between schools and families and community services, but it fits into the much larger picture about what we do every day to make sure that our students are taken care of and feeling supported.”

The Dane County Board’s Health and Human Needs Committee will review a resolution to award the grants next week, with the full board considering the resolution later this month.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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