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As students struggle with mental health, Riverside receives $750,000 grant to add counselors
Times-Tribune - 10/4/2022
Oct. 5—TAYLOR — As student mental health needs continue to grow, the Riverside School District hopes a large grant will make a significant impact.
The district learned this week it received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice'sBureau of Justice Assistance — the largest grant the district has ever received without having to offer matching funds. The money will allow the district to put a licensed professional counselor in each of its three buildings for the next three years.
"The ability to put one in each building is huge," Superintendent Paul Brennan said. "This is a game-changer."
Like districts across the region and country, Riverside has seen an unprecedented increase in student mental health issues since the pandemic began. Last year, the district referred 200 of its approximately 1,500 students for a higher level of care, whether it was through the school-based behavioral health team, outpatient therapy or other means.
J.T. Yarem, head of the district's counseling department, completed crisis evaluations on twice as many students last year compared to the years before COVID-19. Yarem sees students struggle with anxiety, depression and not wanting to be in school.
A shortage of mental health professionals in the community and increased demand can mean long wait times for appointments. Yarem heard of a wait time as long as four months this week.
The counselors, while helping students in crisis, will also work on more proactive programs to address issues before they escalate. The district plans to begin advertising the positions, which pay a little more than $50,000 per year plus benefits, this week.
Underfunded by the state, the district in recent years has sought more funding from outside sources, said William Drazdowski, business manager. Riverside is the only district in the region to receive the grant.
"This is a win for our teachers, our taxpayers and especially our students," Brennan said. "We are going to be able to help a lot of people by making mental health our first priority."
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