Local schools share $190 million from the state to bolster safety and mental health programs

In the spring, students in the Highlands will have roaming access to health and hygiene supplies, clothing and classroom items to increase their chances of success in school.

The mobile support station will be funded by a $270,000 state grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s School Safety and Security Program that was announced last week.

“As a mobile resource, the vehicle will travel to communities in school districts where transportation access is a barrier,” said Assistant Superintendent Cathleen Cubelic. “This will allow district staff to make it easier to connect to resources for our families.

“Our goal is to ensure that we reach all of our students and provide them with the support they need to succeed. »

Highlands was among several districts in the region to receive a grant, which is intended for safety and mental health initiatives. Others include Hempfield Area with around $364,000, Allegheny Valley with $228,000 and Burrell with $253,000.

A total of $190 million could be distributed to districts across the state specifically for projects that directly impact physical safety improvements and mental health programs.

Kirsten Kenyon, director of research, evaluation and strategic policy development, said the total amount represents money that districts in the state can receive. Program applications are being evaluated.

Deer Lakes could receive $256,000; Kiski area, $308,000; and New Kensington-Arnold, $261,000, according to the PCCD.

Districts can use the grants to develop a program that addresses early intervention, self-care, and bullying; provide advice; train staff on positive behavior supports and de-escalation; screen students for negative childhood experiences and provide trauma-informed services; and strengthen partnerships with nonprofit organizations and libraries for after-school programs.

At the Leechburg Area School District, officials hope to spend their $220,000 on a school social worker and several building physical security upgrades.

Superintendent Tiffany Nix said she was waiting for the go-ahead from the PCCD to spend the money. The district intends to equip the main offices of each building with panic buttons and to purchase playground fencing, door alarms and vapor detectors at the secondary level.

Camera surveillance upgrades and walkie-talkies are also on the wish list, Nix said.

Kensington-Arnold’s new superintendent, Chris Sefcheck, said his district is designing relaxation/sensory rooms in each of the four school buildings.

Additionally, officials are designing learning spaces to accommodate flexible seating options, as well as converting cafeteria spaces into student unions, Sefcheck said.

“A big part of our efforts are on environmental conditions to improve the climate and the culture,” Sefcheck said. “It’s a pretty big business.”

In the Lower Valley, Fox Chapel Area could receive $324,000. District spokeswoman Bonnie Berzonski said the request is still under review.

Similarly, Deer Lakes spokesman Shawn Annarelli said the district has not been officially approved for its $256,000 request.

Hempfield Area Superintendent Tammy Wolicki is planning a major safety upgrade for her district. The grant will help pay for two school police officers, Wolicki said.

The money would also be used for training Student Aid Program teachers to improve response to student behavior.

“These members will assist other members of the SAP team in referring students at risk for violent behavior to appropriate community services and behavioral health services, as well as training related to prevention and early intervention” , Wolicki said.

Mental health initiatives would include a variety of programs. They understand:

• Navigate 360 ​​Behavioral Threat and Suicide Case Management: Online case management program supports school threat assessment team members.

• Care Solace, which connects families to mental health services.

• Support the current initiative of positive behavioral interventions and supports at the district level using the school-wide information system, a data collection tool.

• Continued use of Smart Futures, an online career planning and portfolio platform that helps all students prepare for post-secondary education success.

State Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, said funding for student mental health programs should be a priority.

She said students and teachers have reported “an unprecedented mental health crisis in our schools”.

“Providing funding that can tackle this crisis head-on is a huge win for our students, our schools and our communities,” Williams said.

Tawnya Panizzi is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Tawnya by email at tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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