Niagara University’s College of Education has partnered with the Niagara Falls School District to implement a five-year Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration project that will enable the district to better serve its students with behavioral and mental health issues. The initiative, funded by a more than $2.49 million, five-year U.S. federal grant secured through the Department of Education, will add 15 part-time staff annually in schools, increase community and family outreach, provide training to help teachers identify needs early, and expand the pipeline of mental health professionals into the school setting to reduce shortages.
The award was announced by Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie and Congressman Brian Higgins on Oct. 8, 2019, at the district’s Niagara Street Elementary School. As part of this project, 15 interns, with the majority coming from Niagara University’s school psychology and school counseling graduate programs, will be placed in 11 city schools each year to work hand-in-hand with the district’s current employees to serve the 7,200 students in grades prekindergarten through 12.
“This grant helps our district with something that we have found to be paramount in the education of our children--sound mental hygiene,” Laurrie said. “Students must have the help they need to combat issues like depression and anxiety in order to learn and function at their best.”
The grant will also allow for professional development initiatives to help teachers recognize trauma-induced behaviors sooner, allowing for early intervention and to support implementation strategies related to improving student social and emotional development.
“Training the teachers is important, because teachers are the first line of service,” said Chandra Foote, dean of Niagara University’s College of Education. “Right now, the counselors are overloaded. You can’t send every child to the counselors that we have in place and actually have their needs met. We’re happy to partner with (the district) on these services and to prepare teachers who will be able to do it in the future, as well as counselors, school psychologists, and social workers.”
Parenting workshops and resources will also be made available to help families maintain violence-free homes and neighborhoods. An advisory committee will be created with community stakeholders including faith-based, child welfare, violence prevention, and youth service agencies.
At the end of the five years, it is anticipated that 75 new mental health professionals will have been added to the district’s staff.
The grant will allow us “to have a cadre of mental health professionals to support the children of … the entire district,” Laurrie said.
Dr. Foote added she is confident that, if offered positions within the Niagara Falls School District, the interns will choose to accept them.
“They’re Niagara University candidates,” she said. “We attract students who want to serve, especially serve those who are in the highest need, and Niagara Falls has some pretty high needs. So when we attract them and then we prepare them to do that service, this is exactly where they should stay.”