Monona Grove schools will receive nearly $60,000 in funding for mental health services this year.

Monona Grove has been selected as one of 11 school districts to be awarded a new mental health grant from Dane County.

The funds will come from a pot of $1.5 million in federal stimulus money, which the county is splitting among 11 school districts for mental health initiatives.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the hope is that the funds will aid in repairing student mental health ahead of the 2021-22 school year.

“We know the behavioral health needs of young people will outlast this pandemic, so this assistance is designed to get extra supports in place prior to heading back to school this fall,” Parisi said. “This is further reflection of the county’s commitment to improving the well-being of students and, in turn, the educational outcomes of our next generation.”

In April, districts throughout Dane County were tasked with submitting a proposal on the most impactful ways to invest money in student mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Award amounts were based on application materials, with some districts awarded as much as $450,000 and some as low as $7,000. Monona Grove schools will receive $59,650.

Monona Grove Director of Communication and Community Engagement Katy Brynes Kaiser said that although there was only a short window to apply for the grant, it was a high priority for the district.

“It was a tight turnaround time, but our student services team was able to put together a packet of wants, needs, and gaps for our students’ mental health,” she said.

Byrnes Kaiser said the district’s grant proposal was based on a few big gaps in the district’s current mental wellness services: one-time basic needs, wellness activities, and parent or caregiver support.

Under one-time basic needs, the district plans on using the grant funds to provide transportation to behavioral health services, medical appointments, libraries, and food pantries for students who lack access to reliable transportation.

“It is our firm belief that no family should have to forego receiving these services because they have no way to get there,” said Byrnes Kaiser.

Food insecurity is another basic need set to be fulfilled by the grant award, with a portion of the fund to be put toward providing food baskets to students who struggle with access to steady meals over the summer months.

For teachers, Byrnes Kaiser said a chunk of the grant will be reserved for professional development training such as tuition scholarships for staff to complete a 200 hour program on yoga, mindfulness, and social emotional learning. Staff will also be trained on how to better help sixth grade students with the transition from elementary to middle school.

Yet, the grant funding won’t be geared only toward students and teachers. The district also plans on dedicating portions of the grant to fund parenting classes for district families.

“One of the most frequently asked about services that we don’t currently have any good resources to offer is parenting classes, which is a big gap in Dane County as a whole,” said Byrnes Kaiser. “We’ll now be able to provide parenting classes at school in the evenings, which will allow families to really boost and strengthen their relationships with the children in their care, especially during the pandemic.”

Student mental health has been a pressing topic since the onset of the pandemic last year, leaving many parents with worries on how school closures and prolonged isolation will impact their children.

In a survey published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 29% of parents said their child is experiencing “severe harm” to their mental wellbeing since the pandemic began, with another 14% indicating their child is quickly approaching a “breaking point.”

However, Byrnes Kaiser said student mental health is an issue that began long before the pandemic, and it’s likely to continue afterwards.

“[The grant] offers great options for students and it’s great that we’re using stimulus money and it’s recognized as a need, but these needs existed before COVID-19 and they’ll still exist afterwards, maybe even longer so because of the pandemic,” she said.

Monona Grove Director of Student Services Christa Foster agreed, saying she hopes the grant money will be a next step in nurturing a problem that’s existed for a long while.

"Student mental health needs existed before the pandemic, and we are eager to continue this important work through implementation of long term strategies, as well as provision of more immediate support,” Foster said. “We're very grateful to Dane County that student mental health continues to be a funding priority, and that federal stimulus funds will be used in this way.”

Other Dane County schools among the grant recipients include: Verona ($450,000), Madison ($454,000), Oregon ($103,000), Middleton ($72,101), Mount Horeb ($72,550), Lodi ($43,000), Waunakee ($29,021), Wisconsin Heights ($21,569), DeForest ($12,000), and Belleville ($7,000).

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