The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe received a $9 million grant to implement a program that addresses the mental health of students in three Mid-Michigan school districts.
The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded the five-year grant award to the SCIT to implement Project AWARE, according to a news release sent out by the tribe on April 3. Project Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education (AWARE) is a program to aimed at addressing mental health in school-aged youth, according to the SAMHSA website.
This is done by providing mental health and crisis intervention skills training to staff and introducing new staff solely dedicated to students’ mental health, the release states.
The SCIT is partnering with Mt. Pleasant Public Schools, Shepherd Public Schools and the Saginaw Chippewa Academy to incorporate “trauma-informed” training and equipment into those school systems, according to the release and MPPS Superintendent Jennifer Verleger.
The program will be overseen by Kehli Henry, Coordinator for Project Aware. Her responsibilities include overseeing grant guidelines and implementing those guidelines into the school districts, the release states.
“This project will be transformative because it addresses the needs of students, families and employees at a number of levels,” she said in the release. “It is also a unique opportunity for all of the organizations involved to work together to support our youth and create a shared plan for the future.”
A SCIT behavioral health school-based consulting clinician will also be working as a liaison between the tribe and the school districts to develop partnerships between all involved in the program.
At MPPS, they are currently in the process of hiring counselors and buying new supplies that aim to improve the quality of life and mental well-being of students, Verleger said. Some of the supplies that they are looking into include materials needed to make a “calming corner” for students undergoing a crisis, Hokki stools to allow for some mobility for “fidgety” students, and standing desks for students who have a hard time sitting down.
“We’re trying to get supplies that are tailored to the individual needs of each student,” she said.
The district will also start to fully implement the program at the beginning of the next school year after more training sessions are held over the summer. MPPS staff had similar trauma-informed training sessions last year.
The districts were chosen to receive some of the funding because of the enrollment numbers of Native American students in those school districts, Verleger said. She also said that while that was a factor, Project AWARE will be utilized for all students.
The districts were contacted by the tribe last year about the possible implementation of the program, according to Verleger.
For Shepherd, their next steps will be to hire three counselors using their share of the funding, according to Superintendent Steve Brimmer.
“We hope to offer more social emotional support for our youth as well as helping families and providing resources to them,” he said. “We are very happy to be able to provide more emotional support for our students and families.”
Both MPPS and Shepherd expressed gratitude for being able to work with the SCIT in the implementation of the program between the three districts.
“We know that the need for mental health support for our students is there, but this grant takes it to a whole new level,” Verleger said. “We are very fortunate to be involved.”
A 2017 study from the Harvard Review of Psychiatry found that mental health programs in schools have been shown to promote good mental health and improve both reading scores and school attendance, according to a report from Science Daily.