Sizeable Support: G-C wins $1.5 million grant for mental health services

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GREENFIELD — The Greenfield-Central School Corp. was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support school-based mental health initiatives.

Supt. Harold Olin said the district will receive approximately $300,000 each year over the next five years, which will be used to hire and retain social workers to support students struggling with issues both at school and at home.

The district was notified Monday, Jan. 23 that it was among the 102 winning grant recipients throughout the country to receive part of the School Based Mental Health Services grants, totalling close to $144 million.

It was among only three Indiana school districts to receive funding, along with Hamilton Southeastern and Richland-Bean Blossom Community Schools.

“We had to undergo a lengthy application process,” said Olin, who credits Robin LeClaire, the corporation’s director of student services, for securing the sizable award.

LeClaire said the grants address the increased need for mental health services that school districts have been experiencing across the country since the onset of the COVID pandemic.

“This grant allows us to hire staff and make sure that we have the proper training and resources for that staff, which will make a huge difference in the kind of support we can provide,” she said.

While Greenfield-Central has at least one counselor at each of its schools to provide mental health support, not all schools have a social worker on staff.

The district currently employs four social workers — one at Maxwell Intermediate School, one at the junior high school, one at the Academy and one who floats between Harris Elementary and Greenfield Intermediate schools.

With the federal grant funds, LeClaire said the district will hire three additional social workers — one to serve the junior high and high school, one to serve preschool students and another to serve special education students.

The grant will also enable the school system to retain social workers who were hired with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, pandemic-related funds which will run out next year.

Part of the $1.5 million in federal grant money will be used to pay for training and resources for Greenfield-Central’s social workers and counselors, who support students as they continue to navigate life after COVID.

Olin said the pandemic and its aftermath caused an undue amount of stress for both students and adults.

“The pandemic led to food uncertainties and unemployment for many families, and for two years students were not having the consistency of going to school, which meant that some did not have access to caring adults outside the home. It’s been a stressful time for everyone,” he said.

“Our goal is for students to learn. We know that if students aren’t in the right state of mind then they’re not learning what they need to be learning, so we want to provide them with the services and support they need.”

To address the need for enhanced mental health services in local schools, LeClaire gathered nine letters of support for the most recent grant from local leaders including State Sen. Mike Crider, State Rep. Bob Cherry and Steve Long, president of Hancock Health.

“We’re very grateful to our partners who were willing to go that extra mile to support us. (Winning the grant) was really a community team effort,” she said.

Olin commended community leadrs for recognizing the need for ongoing support, adding that mental health issues in the schools can show up in a number of ways.

“It can show up in attendance, it can show up in discipline issues, or in the number of visits we see students making to counselors and social workers,” he said.

While some students struggled with the inconsistency of virtual learning and in-school learning throughout the pandemic, LeClaire said some continue to struggle with being back in school full-time.

“Many students struggle with being back in that in-person, non-flexible schedule, so (school counselors and social workers) can help them with some coping mechanisms,” she said.

Mental health staff in the schools not only talk with students but can offer additional resources within the county, based on their areas of need.

LeClaire said the addition of a social worker for the district’s preschoolers can help catch some issues early, and expedite getting students and families the support they need. Hopefully by getting that support and intervention early, we’ll see less need for that support as the years go by,” she said.