Funds target mental health, building safety
By Scott Bellile
Two state grants totaling $245,000 will expand mental health services and secure school buildings in the School District of New London.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announced Monday, July 23 the district was awarded a $57,500 School-Based Mental Health Services Grant.
On June 28, the Wisconsin Department of Justice awarded the district a separate $187,627 School Safety Grant.
Laurie Schmidt, director of pupil services for the school district, wrote both grant applications. She said mental health and building safety are both “very important pieces of our school community” and she was proud of the teamwork that successfully landed the grants.
The DPI’s School-Based Mental Health Services Grant is a competitive grant as opposed to the DOJ’s School Safety Grant, which is part of a $100 million state program aimed at upgrading security at every Wisconsin school.
New London was one of 64 school districts and consortiums to be awarded the mental health grant of 141 applicants statewide.
“Honestly I didn’t think we’d get it,” Schmidt said of the grant. “I knew it was going to be competitive.”
The $57,500 award will be used to:
• Partner with the district’s three mental health service providers – Samaritan Counseling Center of the Fox Valley, Rawhide Youth and Family Counseling and Open Trails Counseling – to educate teachers and staff on best practices for serving students with mental health needs.
• Introduce a series of mental health talks presented to the community.
• Organize a mental health fair in conjunction with fall parent-teacher conferences.
• Pilot the Brain Talk program in at least one grade level. The Brain Talk Curriculum teaches students about their brains and encourages them to think critically before responding to situations, not react impulsively.
• Create safe spaces in classrooms and update the schools’ treatment spaces.
• Continue Samaritan Counseling Center’s wellness screenings for high school freshmen.
• Implement a Sources of Strength program at New London High School. Principal Brian Yerkey will head the student organization where students spread hope to one another by exploring their personal strengths that they can turn to during tough emotional times. Sources of Strength strives to prevent bullying, substance abuse and suicide.
Mental health carries a stigma, Schmidt said, so the district will work hard to provide more education around it and improve students’ emotional well-beings. The district typically has a waiting list for its mental health services by the end of the school year.
“I think as we look at students being very willing self-reporters right now, they’re very open to talk about how they’re feeling and what’s going on in their lives,” Schmidt said. “For us to be able to be more responsive of that as adults … and provide them with the support that they need [is advantageous].”
Superintendent Dennis Kruger said the district is pleased to receive the DOJ’s School Safety Grant.
“We are always looking for effective ways to ensure safety and security for all,” Krueger said. “This grant enables us to get at these enhancements to safety/security in a more timely manner and alleviates the potential of having to delay such projects until resources may or may not be available.”
The school district plans to spend the $187,627 on three types of upgrades over the next year:
• Shatter-resistant glass: Shatterproof film will secure glass windows near the entrances of the six main schools and in additional indoor areas at schools that are at higher risk of violence.
• Security system technology updates: The server for the district’s security camera technology will be updated. The live security footage from all the schools will be connected into one system to make New London Police Department’s job easier. The elementary schools will also receive additional cameras.
• Secured entrance at Sugar Bush Elementary School: After this summer, five of the six main school buildings will have main doors that incorporate improved lock systems and monitoring. The last school awaiting the update, Sugar Bush, will get an overhaul at the entrance next summer.
Awarded June 28, the grant will fully cover the costs of the three projects, said Joe Marquardt, business services director for the school district.
“We had a number of other items that were on the list, but we felt this would be a best way to compartmentalize their list so that way it enhances as many of our buildings as we could,” Marquardt said.
For example, Marquardt said the district wants to install latches on the classroom doors, but staff need to research their options further before applying for money to buy them.
The grant can only be used to strengthen facilities, not to hire more school resource officers. However, this fall the school district and New London Police Department are putting together dollars from their budgets to expand the number of SROs to one full-time and two part-time.
The school district has a committee comprised of administrators, teachers and school board members who regularly review district-wide security practices, so Marquardt said they will continue to examine where they are potential shortfalls in security and make suggestions to the school board as needed.
“We’re trying to continue to close the window of opportunity for something unfortunate to happen at our schools,” Marquardt said.
Gov. Scott Walker signed the $100 million School Safety Plan into law on March 26. The law created the grant program as well as established the DOJ’s Office of School Safety, mandated reporting of any violent threats against schools, required school districts conduct on-site assessments of their facilities with law enforcement and allowed grant funding to implement Trauma-Informed Care and Adverse Childhood Experiences in Schools.
Area schools apply for safety grant
According to the DOJ, more than 700 schools statewide have applied for the School Safety Grant.
Immanuel Lutheran School in Greenville was awarded a $20,075 grant on July 10.
Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception School in Greenville was awarded a $20,101 grant on Tuesday, July 24.
School districts and private schools in the New London and Hortonville areas that requested grants but have not received them yet are Most Precious Blood Catholic School in New London, Rawhide Boys’ Ranch in the town of Caledonia, Hortonville Area School District and Bethlehem Lutheran School in Hortonville.