Public Education Secretary Designate Kurt Steinhaus
SANTA FE — The New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) has been awarded a five-year grant worth nearly $9 million to help three New Mexico school districts expand their mental health services to promote healthy development of school-aged youth and prevent youth violence.
Farmington Municipal Schools, Santa Fe Public Schools and Socorro Consolidated Schools will participate in project AWARE with funding provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. AWARE stands for Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education.
“We are thrilled to receive this grant, which we believe will show that spending on preventative mental health care at the front end of a child’s life prevents more extensive interventions later in life,” Public Education Secretary Designate Kurt Steinhaus said. “Children need these services. Families need these services. Communities need these services.”
The grant required participation from three districts or state-chartered schools. The department chose a handful of districts based on demographics, need, geographic location (to assure variety) and existing mental health infrastructure. Of those, Farmington, Socorro and Santa Fe committed to the project.
All three districts have high rates of families speaking languages other than English in the home: Socorro 39 percent, San Juan 30 percent, and Santa Fe 36 percent. They also have high rates of children living in poverty: 26.3 percent in San Juan, 35.5 percent in Socorro, and 19 percent in Santa Fe.
“New Mexico’s success hinges not only on the academic success of its youth, but also on their mental health and emotional stability,” said Gregory Frostad, director of the Public Education Department’s Safe and Healthy Schools Bureau, which applied for three federal grants in the last 18 months to increase the number of behavioral health services and to improve the quality of behavioral health services available to students.
Two of the three proposals were successful, bringing more than $15 million to New Mexico over the next five years.
“We recognize and are addressing how important it is to create safe and supporting learning environments for all students, staff, parents and families. We know that when the conditions for learning are created and the behavioral health needs of all are addressed, we see improved academic outcomes, school attendance, less teacher burnout and greater retention, decreased discipline issues, improved school climate and increased overall wellbeing,” said Leslie Kelly, behavioral health coordinator in the Public Education Department’s Safe and Healthy Schools Bureau.
Project leaders expect to serve 100 youth annually and 500 over the life of the grant by connecting those who need it to mental health services.
Additionally, the program intends to develop the infrastructure to sustain mental health services and supports for school-aged youth after funding ends; to provide training for school personnel to detect and respond to mental health issues, and to increase awareness of mental health issues among school-aged youth.
AWARE is a joint project of the Public Education Department, the Children, Youth and Families Department and the three districts.
The funding consists of $5.3 million total for years one through three, with another $1.8 million in each of years four and five for a total of $8.9 million.
As soon as the funds are budgeted, work will begin to hire a project director.