School leaders strengthening mental health services for Ottawa County students with $5.5M grant

OTTAWA COUNTY, MI – The Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (ISD) has received a $5.5 million federal grant that will help schools connect their students to available mental health resources more quickly and efficiently.

The Ottawa Area Intermediate School District is one of nine groups nationwide that received the grant funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said ISD communications specialist Amy Busse.

The funding is part of a program called Project AWARE, which stands for Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awards the grants.

Over the next five years, the Ottawa Area ISD will use the new funding to streamline its mental health services by creating a single system that will be used to refer students to school-based mental health supports, including substance abuse and other issues, Busse told MLive Wednesday, Sept. 28.

The main goal is to get students the help they need in a more efficient way, Busse explained.

Amy Henry, who is the multi-tiered system of supports coordinator for the Ottawa Area ISD, called the grant funding an “extraordinary gift to our community.”

“Receiving the Project AWARE grant will allow us to expand upon current work happening in OAISD related to positive, predictable, and safe learning environments while also coordinating mental health and wellness supports in school settings,” Henry said in a prepared statement from the Ottawa Area ISD.

Busse said the project will start as a pilot in one school district in Ottawa County. Then, the new system will be implemented across the ISD’s local K‐12 school districts, charter, parochial and private schools.

The grant funding will also provide resources to schools within the Ottawa Community Schools Network, which services 50 local businesses and community organizations, to continue to increase mental health support in schools sustainably and systematically, according to a news release from the Ottawa Area ISD.

The Project AWARE grant funding has four specific goals, which were outlined in the news release. Those goals are:

  1. Create effective, comprehensive systems and structures to support Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) installation and implementation at a model demonstration district.
  2. Create an effective and efficient three-tiered system of support for students using an ISF model within a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework at the school level.
  3. Establish and continuously improve an effective and efficient single system for referrals for mental health supports/services in districts and schools.
  4. Increase knowledge and awareness of district/school staff, students, families, and communities around issues related to mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring issues/disorders among school-aged youth.

“Incorporating the ISF model into our already established PBIS framework will streamline referrals for mental health supports and services for students across OAISD allowing us to more quickly provide help to students in need,” Henry said.

“The grant funds will also allow us to educate staff, students, families, and communities around issues related to mental health, substance abuse and more.”

The Ottawa Area ISD is one of only two school systems, and the only organization from Michigan, to receive the federal Project AWARE funding, Busse said.

“The initiative and drive of our employees who are always looking for ways to make things better for our students and our community continues to amaze me,” said Kyle Mayer, superintendent for the Ottawa Area ISD, said, in a prepared statement. “Their dedication is inspiring!”

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