Kyrene School District has scored a major federal grant to implement its social-emotional learning programs that aim to identify and reach troubled grade school and middle school students before they hurt someone or themselves
The five-year, $230,000 grant under the U.S. Justice Department’s STOP School Violence Prevention and Mental Health Training Program was one of the few given to Arizona school districts.
Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely rolled out her multi-tiered social-emotional learning plan as part of a wide-ranging effort to improve students’ chances of success not just in the classroom but in society.
When she presented it to the board in February, she noted that the cornerstone of the plan was to promote “an inclusive culture of respect, high expectations, collaboration and shared responsibility for student success.”
Asked why elementary and middle school students needed such a program, Vesely at the time told the school board, “We really do believe social-emotional wellness is a strong contributing factor to their success academically and in all contexts of job and life.”
The Justice Department gave only 16 grants nationwide to suburban areas with a population of 100,000 to 500,000. Arizona had received a total $1.3 million of the $70 million in grants awarded by the department.
Some of that money also went to programs aimed at mental health intervention programs or training law enforcement personnel in preventing student violence and for improved technology for police notification during school emergencies.
Kyrene sought the funding for several programs that will increase the support services for students and reduce the risk of suicide and school violence factors.
Those programs include Second Step, a web-based program piloted last year at Aprende Middle School and at the Kyrene Traditional Academy; use of the Panorama Assessment, a social-emotional skills survey to help assess student behavior; and implementation of Signs of Suicide programs in middle schools for eight counselors/psychologists.
“This is a huge win for Kyrene students and families,” Vesely said of the grant. “Addressing the social-emotional needs of our students is a high priority for us and is reflected as an important objective of our strategic plan.”
She said the grant would help continue and expand programs for middle school students and enable their introduction in elementary schools.
The award comes at a time when teen suicides have picked up in nearby districts. Five students, one only 10 years old, have been lost to suicide in three weeks in the Queen Creek, Chandler and Higley school districts, bringing to 19 the number of suicide victims in the East Valley since July 2017.
“Our community has suffered tremendous loss to suicide over the past few years,” Vesely said. “Combined with the recent heightened concerns about preventing school violence in Kyrene, this grant will help us reduce suicide risk and school violence factors.”
She said the Panorama survey generates data that enables school officials to reduce disciplinary referrals and student emotional stress while improving academic achievement.
“We want to build student social-emotional learning skills and empower them to actively engage in their own socio-emotional health,” she said.
The grant also allows for the creation of a group of Kyrene staffers who will monitor and evaluate the results of the social-emotional learning programs.
The Justice Department also awarded more than $64 million to state agencies in an effort to improve criminal record systems and background checks, and $1 million will go toward researching factors behind mass shootings.
The grants are authorized by the STOP School Violence Act, which was signed into law earlier this year.
“These grants will go a long way toward giving young people and their families both safety and peace of mind,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a news release.