School district uses the funds to increase counseling capacity and train staff on trauma-informed practices

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - School district uses the funds to increase counseling capacity and train staff on trauma-informed practices.

The Crook County School District will be better prepared to support the mental health needs of local students, thanks to a recent $300,000 grant.

Redmond-based Better Together recently received a two-year, $300,000 grant from the newly launched national Every School Healthy Campaign, and the local school district will benefit.

Better Together Central Oregon is using the money for Crook County school counselors and to train staff in trauma-informed practices.

"We feel extremely fortunate and grateful to have been selected as one of five sites to receive a $300,000 grant to increase services to our community students and to provide additional training for our staff," said Stacy Smith, the CCSD director of curriculum and special programs. "This was an extremely competitive grant with over 200 applicants."

The grant covers one full-time elementary counselor position, which Collin Hester has filled at Crooked River Elementary, and half of a Pioneer Alternative School Counselor, which Darlene Fletcher filled. The district used some Measure 98 money to pay for the other half of Fletcher's position for supplemental counseling at Crook County High School.

The district was able to hire both counselors last spring so they could start work on the first day of school this fall.

"Patty Schmitz was split between both elementary schools last year and has moved full-time to Barnes Butte Elementary, where her Spanish skills are very helpful," Smith pointed out.

Hester moved from the CCHS ASPIRE program to the full-time counseling position at CRE. Fletcher works between Pioneer and CCHS.

The grant will cover the salaries and benefits for both counselors for the next two years.

Smith said there is a little more than $120,000 for counseling salaries and benefits in the grant for each year of the two-year grant, equaling $80,000 for the full-time elementary counselor and $40,000 for the half at Pioneer.

Smith noted that at the elementary level, the Quality Education Model lists one elementary counselor for 300 to 600 students, and last year, the district had one counselor for 1,200 students.

"We had very little counseling support for Pioneer students prior to this year. Occasionally, one of the CCHS counselors would help," Smith said. "Devoting at least half a counselor to address the needs of approximately 30 to 40 alternative school students is a tremendous upgrade."

Additionally, through the regional TRACEs (Trauma, Resilience, and Adverse Childhood Experiences) movement, part of the grant will also support the training of teachers and school staff in trauma-informed practices to enhance a culture of care in the school district.

"TRACEs is committed to supporting within the school and throughout the community to ensure that every individual in Crook County has the strengths, social supports and resources they need to thrive," said Katie McClure, director of the regional TRACEs movement.

Smith noted that more than 200 staff participated in the Trauma Informed Care training on Oct. 12.

"Trauma Informed Care training is important because as we learn the effect of acute or chronic trauma on the developing brains of our students, we can learn how to better manage those students and prevent either re-traumatizing or triggering trauma so that our students remain in a state that is most conducive to learning," Smith said.

Led by America's Promise Alliance, a national network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth, the Every School Healthy Campaign strives to raise awareness of the integral connection between education and health and make healthy schools the norm across the United States.

The campaign is investing a total of $1.8 million in six communities to lay the groundwork for a national campaign. Better Together is one of the six sites that was selected through a competitive process from a pool that included more than 145 communities in 20 priority states. Better Together is a regional, cross-sector partnership that works collectively to improve education outcomes for children and youth.

"Crook County School District has long prioritized healthy schools, and this funding is an important step in an effort to bolster that work in Prineville and across the region. It demonstrates the strength we have in partnering across sectors to enhance systems that support our students." said Katie Condit, executive director for Better Together.

This effort is based in a strong partnership between Better Together, Crook County School District, TRACEs, Mosaic Medical, Central Oregon Health Council, Crook County Health Department, Crook County On The Move, Lutheran Family Services, and St. Charles Medical Center.

"We are grateful to have been recognized by America's Promise Alliance for our commitment to healthy schools. This funding is a game-changer for the support we provide in our district. It is a great example of the power of partnerships for students," said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson.

Smith said the district received feedback that it was their focus on mental health and their network of community partnerships that allowed their grant application to stand out.

"This makes us very proud of those partnerships and the school district leadership in securing this opportunity for our students and staff," Smith said.

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