Colonial School District secures transformative $3.6 million federal grant to improve student well-being

Through the Return to Learn initiative, the district will enhance support for students facing challenges and high-risk situations.

Colonial School district school bus

(Colonial School District)

As school starts back up this fall, the well-being of students in the Colonial School District will get special focus. The northern Delaware district just received a $3.6 million federal grant to enhance social and emotional help for students.

The money comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Return to Learn program.

Because of the program’s rigorous application process, district leaders were pleasantly surprised to be one of 21 districts awarded the grant.

“We did feel like it was going to be very competitive because it’s one thing for an entire state Department of Education to apply. But for a school district to apply is really a different scale,” said Colonial’s John Cooper “It’s a well-known national program, and there are many, many thousands of school districts across the country. So to be one of 21 to have our proposal accepted is just fantastic. We’re very, very, very happy about it.”

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For Colonial, the grant will provide additional behavioral health support services to students who are absent from school as a result of mental health related issues. That includes things like talk of suicide, criminal and legal problems, substance use, high conflict, and violent relationships.

“This program is going to allow us to strengthen our partnership between the school district and those adolescent mental health facilities so that while those students are in their care, we are maintaining contact with them,” Cooper said. “When they are prepared to be discharged to return to school, we are able to not have them just go up on a random Thursday, but actually plan that transition … where we ensure that we have the counseling services in place that they might need.”

Cooper highlights that this program is parallel to its efforts to help students facing significant discipline concerns too. Colonial’s goal is to reduce discipline infractions and prevent students from being removed from the school.

“In the state of Delaware, at least New Castle County, we have had an increasing situation where adolescents who are experiencing mental health crises end up being maintained in an emergency room,” he said. “There are not enough beds for them in the mental health facilities.”

While the additional services do not completely address this shortage, it is an attempt to provide support to students before they reach that point of having a mental health crisis.

To tackle the mental health issues, Colonial plans to bring additional behavioral health providers into secondary schools to develop an elevated relationship with students, families, and the agencies.

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“The direct service component to this grant is going to come through contracting clinical social worker folks that are trained in providing mental health services, that they would be actually interacting with the students and their families,” he said.

These services are set to be implemented in the upcoming academic year.

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