Thirteen school districts in the Green River region of Kentucky are adding mental health counselors funded by a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
The federal grant of nearly $4 million has been awarded to the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative.
Associate Executive Director Melissa Biggerstaff said the organization previously focused on academic support, and this is the first time it’s focusing on mental health.
“We’re finding that more and more, and younger and younger, students are coming to school having experienced trauma," said Biggerstaff. "And so because of that, we’re seeing an increase violent, aggressive behaviors, disruptive behaviors. We’re seeing an increase in students who are not necessarily engaging in school.”
Parents will have to give permission for their children to be screened for mental health issues.
Biggerstaff said it's important to remove the stigma of mental health issues and treat them like any medical condition, such as a hurt ankle, when a parent would take a child to the doctor for treatment.
Biggerstaff said schools have to look at the whole child and do whatever possible to help them be ready to learn. She said the grant can help students who have experienced trauma, due to issues like the opioid crisis, be better prepared to learn at school.
“We really want to reduce the barriers when we think about what students need. And we know, based on data, this is a tremendous need in this area," said Biggerstaff. "And so we want to help parents and the community at-large really just rethink about how we think about mental health and supporting students.”
The county school districts participating in the project are Barren, Christian, Daviess, Logan, Meade, Muhlenberg, Ohio, and Simpson.
Also participating are city and independent school systems in Caverna, Elizabethtown, Glasgow, Owensboro, and Russellville.