• Dennis McCaslin

Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction announces $9 million mental health grant

Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced a $9 million federal grant this week to expand support for rural districts striving to meet the mental health needs of students.

“For children to excel in school, we must meet the needs of the whole child, including vital mental health supports. The pandemic has taken a toll on students, and Oklahoma is grateful for the opportunity to provide districts with additional resources to provide trauma-informed training for teachers and a community-based approach to mental health,” Hofmeister said.

The Oklahoma AWARE South grant is the third and largest grant of its kind awarded to the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) and will serve approximately 15,000 students in Davis, Lawton and Sulphur public schools.

The latest grant was awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 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.

The three Project AWARE grants total $26.6 million. Oklahoma is the only state in the nation with three AWARE grant projects running concurrently.

“Oklahoma education continues to set the curve regarding project implementation to ensure a mental health cornerstone for students. The funding provided by these grants will help ease burdens on our schools and provide families with resources for prevention, intervention and treatment services in an area of the state where we know the need is great,” Hofmeister said.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the ratio of population to mental health providers in the Project AWARE South region is 629:1, compared to the state average of 201:1.

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.

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