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Florence 1 Schools Awarded $1.5 Million Dollar Mental Health Resiliency Grant

FLORENCE, SC—Florence 1 Schools was recently awarded a $1.5 million dollar grant by the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE). SCDE was the recipient of a US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant; Florence 1 was awarded a sub-grant under SC Project AWARE: Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education.

Florence 1 was one of three South Carolina districts to receive this grant funding.

Project AWARE aims to bring awareness to mental health issues and services. This grant will allow Florence 1 to provide training for personnel on how to better manage mental health issues within their school and will make the process of connecting students and families with the services they may need outside of school easier.

The grant will be spent over a five-year period for employing mental health professionals, with money going toward personnel, supplies and professional development, with the intention of Florence 1 being the first school district in South Carolina to have one mental health professional in each school.

Lisa Spears, Florence 1’s Coordinator for Mental Health Services, said that this grant builds upon what the district has been doing since 2004.

“The focus of the grant is to “increase access to mental health services,” Spears said. “It will provide support for staff and more resources for those providing early intervention as well as providing training for our staff. The grant also provides for training students to become more aware of mental health issues with information campaigns.”

Florence 1 currently employees 18 mental health professionals. Providing help during a school day is only part of what they do; making sure that students have the services they need outside of school and coordinating care is another important part.

“The districts that received the grant are responsible for developing community partnerships,” Spears said. “Let’s say a student needs an outside service, we want to make sure we have good partnerships within Florence so there is a smooth transition.”

Spears said that oftentimes there is shame associated with discussions on mental health. She hopes that this grant will help break down that barrier.

“We want schools to be a safe place to get help and support,” Spears said. “This will empower staff and students and, hopefully, take away some of the stigma surrounding mental health. It provides education and the more we understand, the more we can help. We want to make it okay for a child who is having a struggle to ask for help.”

Getting that help early in life can make a lasting impact.

“Traumatic events and emotional challenges tend to have a negative effect on a child’s overall development,” Spears said. “That can make it hard to be successful academically and socially. We want our students to perform well in school but we also want our students to be functioning adults in society.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 20 percent of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition. Additionally, 37 percent of students with mental health conditions ages 14 and older drop out of school.

“Mental health has come to the forefront, not just in our district but also in America,” Spears said. “Dr. O’Malley has provided tremendous support for the mental health services within our district. There has been great change in the short period he has been here. This is going to give us the opportunity to provide education and to empower people to feel more comfortable talking about mental health challenges. I am really excited about the opportunity this gives us to educate parents also. Parents want to know how to help their child. Sometimes the parent is struggling as well, and looking for information and resources. To be able to provide that support is huge.”