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Grant helps Johnson City schools meet mental health needs

January 12th, 2014 9:13 pm by Gary B. Gray

Grant helps Johnson City schools meet mental health needs

(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)


Mountain View Elementary School is benefiting from a federal grant aimed at bolstering a partnership between teachers, parents and specialists who identify and tend to potential problems before families are disrupted and educational opportunities are lost. 


Mountain View is one of only five schools in the state to receive the financial award.


Three women intimately involved with this endeavour met with the Johnson City Press on Thursday at Watauga Behavioral Health Services to better explain the overall goals of the partnership and how the funds will be utilized.


On Jan. 2, the City Commission approved a roughly $40,000 appropriation to Frontier Health to match the $83,750 awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fund a mental health and substance abuse grant called the Statewide System of Care Expansion Initiative. 


The grant contract became effective in November and ends in October. The state may extend the grant in one-year increments, but for a term of no longer than five years. 


“Our annual appropriation from the city went away for this fiscal year, but City Manager Pete Peterson told us they were setting back some funds for occasions such as this,” Frontier Health Senior Vice President of Tennessee Children’s Services Kathy Benedetto said. “We have sustained services previously provided by the HEROES grant by blending funding sources, including Johnson City Schools. The HEROES grant was a four-year grant, but we were able to roll some dollars into a fifth year by being particularly frugal.”


The state’s health department had heard about the success of the HEROES program and the school-based services provided through a method not contained only within school walls. Officials visited Mountain View and Science Hill High School and later encouraged the school system to apply for the grant.


Currently, four master’s degree-level licensed therapists rotate from school to school along with one bachelor’s level case manager. The initiative pays for one additional therapist, who acts as a concierge or liaison who gathers information from teachers, students, parents, family members and other sources and accesses needs.


The goal is to provide services for at least 50 children, to increase community awareness about childhood mental health needs and to educate the public about the importance of effectively responding early to childrens’ needs. 


Frontier Health developed a System of Care Community Team, which identifies and engages community agency leaders and youth and families, as well as providing means of increasing access to and availability of mental health services, including an outline of needed training and technical assistance related to the grant. 


Johnson City Schools’ HEROES Program Director Greg Wallace heads the care-management team.


“The grant is there to make sure there is a partnership between parents, the school and the community agency,” said Rebecca Sapp, clinical supervisor for both the HEROES and SOC grant. “The former principal at Mountain View kept saying there were more needs there than money to help the situation. What’s being addressed is poverty and academic issues. We’re not there to provide every need, but to help find the resources to address these needs, including mental health.


“It will be parent-driven,” Sapp added. “It may be an emotional problem. It may be because of something happening at school, and it may be a situation with the family. But in any case, our goal is always to be pre-emptive.”


The therapists, case manager, principal, and any and all people involved in various cases, meet once a week, but no one person makes the call on whether some type of service is needed or which specific treatment, agency or course of action should be used to help remedy the situation.


“We have about 470 students,” Mountain View Principal Melissa Stukes said. “We have a lot of students being raised by grandparents and aunts and uncles. There’s also economic problems. When I was growing up, if my parents couldn’t pay the light bill, I never knew. Students today seem to have more information, and there are economic factors that hurt the family that filter down to children.


“Meeting once a week allows us to keep track of student behavior. We may notice a trend, or we may be contacted by a parent. But treatment, if it’s initiated, will depend on the needs of both the student and the parent.” 


Funding will go toward treatment of children from kindergarten through the fourth grade at Mountain View diagnosed with mental, emotional or behavioral problems. Treatment also is available to students’ family members, especially siblings up to 5 years old who have been diagnosed as being at risk of developing mental, emotional or behavioral disorders. 


“Johnson City Schools has been an excellent partner,” Benedetto said. “For children to be successful at school, it takes more than being at school.”


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