Englewood schools to spend $24,000 in grant money on mental health promotion

Funds are part of Kaiser Permanente's Thriving Schools program

Robert Tann
rtann@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/22/22

The Englewood School District will invest $24,000 in grant funds into mental health iniatives after recieving money through Kaiser Permanente's Thriving Shcools program.

The money is part of …

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Englewood schools to spend $24,000 in grant money on mental health promotion

Funds are part of Kaiser Permanente's Thriving Schools program

Posted

The Englewood School District will invest $24,000 in grant funding that will go towards mental health initiatives as part of Kaiser Permanente's Thriving Schools program.

“We’re very grateful to be receiving this grant, I think that mental health and emotional wellbeing is something that we all as school leaders are extremely concerned about and are committed to ensuring that our students and our staff and our communities get as much support as possible," said Englewood Schools Superintendent Wendy Rubin. 

The money is part of $300,000 in grants from the health provider gave to several Front Range districts as schools continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our school districts are the heartbeat of our communities and now, more than ever, are in great need of additional resources to help their students, staff, and teachers thrive,” Mike Ramseier, president of Kaiser Permanente in Colorado, said in a statement.

Marie LeBlanc, who coordinates grants for Englewood schools, said the money will help support the district's investments in trauma-informed training practices for staff as well as supply and maintain calming areas in classrooms and send staff to a national conference on restorative justice. 

“We’re resetting our new normal, our students, and our teachers, are coming back with different challenges," said LeBlanc, who previously headed the district's mental health programs. 

Trauma-informed training, LeBlanc said, will help staff identify ways to adapt their classroom space, such as the lighting and volume levels, to ensure children are learning well in their environment. A lot of the training, she said, also centers around the ways in which staff talk to students in a way that builds relationships. 

“It’s about meeting students where they’re at,” LeBlanc said. “It’s not ‘what’s wrong with you’ it’s ‘what’s going on with you today?"

Some staff will be attending a conference in Chicago from July 7 to July 9 hosted by the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice. That too will help staff learn how to communicate with students who are facing tough circumstances in a non-judgmental  way. 

And calming spaces, which LeBlanc said are in classrooms throughout the district's schools, are areas that allow students to take a break from class for a few minutes when they're feeling overwhelmed. 

By reading a book or playing with a fidget toy in a plush, comforting area, LeBlanc said students are able to get the time they need to feel calm.

“It’s helping them to regulate themselves, giving them a strategy of knowing when to need a break, knowing when to take that break and knowing when to come back to class," she said. 

While some students used the spaces pre-pandemic, the areas have become much more popular since COVID-era learning, Rubin said. 

With many students returning to full in-person learning earlier this year for the first time in nearly two years, schools across the state have reported more instances of outbursts from children in the classroom.

It's true for Englewood, where Rubin said children are dealing not just with the readjustment to in-person class, but the continued fear, anxiety and divisiveness of pandemic politics. 

For some students, they're having to learn for the first-time social communication that was made difficult for them during remote learning. All of it is reasons why the calming spaces have been such a needed resource.

“We have kids who have spent half their lives wearing masks," Rubin said. “When people are really anxious and stressed, sometimes they just need to calm down for a few minutes, and we feel that as adults." 

With Colorado far behind many other states when it comes to funding its public schools, grants provide an essential tool for meeting district needs, said Englewood school board president Duane Tucker. 

“Grants, in general, are important to us," he said. "It allows us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t have funding to do.” 

And the focus on mental health in schools has gained greater attention since the pandemic, LeBlanc said. When Englewood schools brought its students back to in-person learning, most of their discussions had to do around students' mental wellbeing.

LeBlanc said she is optimistic that more financial support for mental health programs, whether it be through private grants or government funding, will be possible in the future. 

“I think people are willing to invest, I think people want more money for our mental health," she said. "I do recognize that we have a ways to go, we do need more funding for mental health.”

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