The Phoenix-Talent School District is one of four school districts in the state that can hire more mental health providers as part of a $20 million package of competitive grants secured by US counselors Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
The Senators announced in a press release Friday that the Phoenix-Talent Schools will receive $2,649,732. Other districts that will receive money are the Douglas Education Services District ($6.8 million), Multnomah County School District 1J ($5.5 million) and Corbett School District 39 ($4.9 million).
“Mental health care is essential health care, especially for school-age children, which is why I introduced the Elementary and Secondary Schools Guidance Act to put more providers in schools,” Merkley said in a prepared statement. “I am grateful that, in the spirit of this legislation, Douglas, Jackson, and Multnomah counties are receiving this important federal investment to help support students. Our children’s success in the classroom is about more than test scores.”
Brent Barry, superintendent of the Phoenix-Talent School District, issued a prepared statement saying that the need for student mental health support is “enormous” given the 2020 Almeda Fire and COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are so excited to go into action and are forever grateful for this opportunity to help our children and families,” Barry said.
In an interview Friday, Kelly Souter, director of equity and community care for the Phoenix-Talent School District, sheds more light on how the $2.6 million was used over five years, the time frame set by Congress.
“It’s really hard to get things done in a shorter timeframe like a three-year grant,” said Sutter.
Since Phoenix-Talent doesn’t usually receive federal grants of this size, Sutter noted, part of the money will be used for an office support specialist who will help administer the grant.
Immediately, the district is working toward achieving portions of grant targets.
This includes rehabilitating Phoenix High School to provide a health services center at La Clinica, in addition to the work the nonprofit is already doing to provide youth health care in Rogue Valley.
Souter said an opening for a fourth community care professional is being announced. The additional position will add to the other three: Rosario Medina at Talent Elementary, Katie McCormick at Orchard Hill Elementary and Laura Millette at Phoenix Elementary.
The fourth specialist can be someone trained through the new Career Paths program in partnership with La Clinica.
“Finding mental health providers is a challenge everywhere, especially in our area,” Sutter said. “They’re not going to materialize out of nowhere just because we have more money to hire new people. We have to have a mechanism (for that).”
Pathways programs are expected to add up to 10 people who are eligible to serve as mental health collaborators.
The grant money will also be used to pilot a new “brief screening tool” led by Portland State University during the current school year to identify struggling youth. This will be offered as a pilot program, but PSU will also help interns in the district place interns in its schools.
In the next school year, a school counselor will be added to Talent Middle School, which does not currently have a counselor, Sutter said.
In addition, the number of therapists districtwide will increase from 4 to 11 over the next five years, according to Sutter.
Sutter emphasized the importance of a federal grant like the one Oregon State Senators received to Phoenix-Talent. “We have young people in every school who are struggling,” she said, “and they are struggling silently or out loud.”
Sutter believes that a small district like Phoenix-Talent will quickly be able to see the benefits of the grant.
Contact reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.