Sampson County Schools administrators are in the process of adding five more mental health professionals to the system after news this week that they received a federal counseling grant valued at close to $1.2 million.
The grant, valued at $1,187,295 and called the 4-S: Supportive Services for Student Success, will be funded through the 2015 school year. The system, one of 600 across the nation that applied for the grant, will receive $395,705 in the 2012-13 school year; $396,018 during the 2013-14 school year; and $395,572 in the 2014-15 school year.
“When I got the call, I couldn’t believe it,” said an elated superintendent Dr. Ethan Lenker. “These types of grants take a lot of work and they are not easy to get, but the services that we are going to be able to give the kids are what it is all about.”
Those services will be focused on serving the nine elementary schools in the system, according to Charlotte Murphy, assistant superintendent for Educational and Student services.
“The grant was developed with community agencies, parents, student surveys, principals and faculty to identify needs in our K-5 schools,” she explained. “The project objective was identified from the work we did back in the spring, and we discovered that with some of the data that we had received, we really needed to put a focus on our elementary students.”
With the grant, the system will be able to hire three full-time social workers, the first-ever school psychologist and 1.2 more counselors.
System officials will also implement an elementary peer program,a student ambassador program, a citizenship program and training for students and faculty.
“The grant takes care of all of those programs,” noted Murphy. “What it really means is that we will have a ratio of about one counselor per 300 kids in the elementary schools which is align with what the American School Counselors Association asks or recommends.”
Currently, two social workers handle any and all situations for over 8,500 students in the system.
When the professionals are hired, elementary students will be able to participate in smaller group sessions with counselors, which will allow social workers opportunities to target resources to identify and meet individual student needs, Murphy pointed out.
“We anticipate that it will reduce the incidents of bullying that was reported by students and reduce the disciplinary referrals in elementary schools,” Murphy predicted. “We want to implement programs that target citizenship and students participating in the Good Behavior Game program, which will help them as they move into middle and high schools. Studies have shown that participants in that program have had decreased drop-out and absentee rates than students that have not participated in it. Which is a wonderful thing to start them so early.”
Murphy said the grant was submitted back in May, but officials began working on it in March.
“In addition to input from our staff, we really looked at statistics,” she added. “That included the student/parent surveys we sent out to parents and teachers. We used all of that survey information on this grant.”
“This wasn’t a grant that had people just sitting in a room writing it,” noted Lenker. “All of our counselors were involved with it. They had target areas where they wanted to hit. It is a huge deal that we could go out and get all the counselors input, the principals input. We got all the information from them, the data from the surveys and everything else, put it altogether and sought out the grant. We were just one of 60 in the country that received it, so we feel really fortunate. It is going to put more focus on our elementary schools and that will allow us to continue to build their foundation as best we can.”
Some of the statistics collected during the grant research was stunning.
“We looked at statistics for our elementary schools and for Sampson County,” Murphy explained. “One of the things that we discovered was that child abuse and welfare rates had increased in Sampson County by 75 percent since 2009. When we looked at the number of support groups for children that were served by our local crisis center for domestic violence, there were about 145 just in 2011; there were also 41 sexual assault victims under the age of 12. When you look at those numbers, you know that our children need mental health professionals available for them and their families.”
Out of all of the hires, which Murphy hopes will be in place by Nov. 1, the biggest will be the first full-time psychologist for the system.
“It will be the first time we are able to have a full-time psychologist on staff to provide consultative services for students and families, as well as to provide staff development for our teachers and all other staff members,” she said. “It opens up a lot of avenues for us that we didn’t have before. It will also help a lot of the students and families that we serve.”
Lenker said although the grant is a major one for the system, he is not resting on the system’s laurels.
“We are still seeking other grants as well,” Lenker asserted. “We just don’t get one and stop. We keep looking for a lot of things, whether it is safety issue, academic, counseling, we are trying to help to move the system forward.”
“I am very pleased, elated,” Murphy interjected. “But like Dr. Lenker said, we are constantly seeking grant supportive services and welcome support from any partners. Naturally, we are always seeking additional support for our students.”
The official meeting with the government is Nov. 16.
“We would like to have those people employed by that time,” said Lenker. “And we are hoping that the grant has a chance to pass the initial three-year allotment.”
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to email@example.com.