Grand Rapids Public Schools is launching in-school mental health services in three of its schools.
Alger Middle School, Riverside Middle School and City High/Middle School each are receiving a two-year grant of $100,000 from the state to hire a licensed behavioral health provider.
The master’s-level social workers or counselors will be available to students for regular appointments and crisis care.
School counselors and nurses receive a lot of reports from students regarding anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and more, according to Kim Baron, director of GRPS school health services.
Particularly at Alger and Riverside middle schools, there is a large number of students from underserved areas, and there’s a well-known link between socioeconomic status and mental health.
“Mental health is tied to academic success, and when you're not academically successful, you're less likely to continue on to the next grade,” Baron said.
While she said she believes there still is a lot of shame around asking for help with mental issues, she thinks the stigma has decreased over the recent years, leading to more students feeling comfortable enough to seek help.
However, students may face a number of barriers when seeking help, such as access to transportation, a lack of available providers or simply not knowing where to go.
“Oftentimes, they'll get on a waitlist, and they'll have to wait for a week or two weeks,” Baron said. “If you're really in a crisis situation, you don't have a week or two weeks to wait for your appointment.”
Having counselors in the schools full time and year-round is meant to eliminate many of those barriers, as well as cut down on time away from school for appointments.
Since GRPS could only choose three schools to start, Baron said she thought it was best to offer the services for students at the transitional middle school age with the intent of identifying and beginning services earlier in life.
She said GRPS leadership already is exploring funds for fiscal year 2021 to continue the program.
She said she thinks future state funding may be based on some of the data GRPS is required to collect, such as the number of students being served.
The state gives some guidance on how to manage the program but leaves much of the decision-making up to the district.
Baron is working on developing the position descriptions for the three roles and plans to post them in the next couple weeks, with the hope to hire right away.