Griffin-Spalding Schools is one of three school systems in the state participating in Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education).
The school board was awarded a 5-year federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) through the Georgia Department of Education last September. The purpose of Georgia Project AWARE is to increase awareness of mental health issues among school-aged youth; provide training in Youth Mental Health First Aid; and connect children, youth, and families who may have behavioral health issues with appropriate services.
Project AWARE staff spoke about the program at the Educational Prosperity Initiative meeting on Thursday.
“Many of our children who have chronic behavior problems could very well have mental or emotional problems and need these services,” said EPI Chairperson Jewell Walker-Harps.
She said she wants to make parents and those who with youth aware of the new program, to get the word out.
“I believe the children in alternative school and those suspended for behavioral issues have mental health issues,” Walker-Harps said.
Project AWARE coordinator Jason Byars cited the prevalence of mental health issues in schools, saying “4 million children between the ages of 9 and 17 have a serious mental health disorder, and 21 percent have a diagnosable mental disorder causing impairment.
Byars said, “that is five or six in every classroom with some type of impairment with only 20 percent of those being diagnosed,” and about half of mental health issues start to manifest around age 14, he noted.
One of the most tragic is suicide, he said, which is the third leading cause of death among ages 15 to 24. “in the next few years we will see it move up to number two, second only to accidents.”
Of high school dropouts, 50 percent have mental health issues, and it is higher for students who are incarcerated. He said “65 percent of boys and 75 percent girls in juvenile detention centers have a diagnosable mental illness.”
Byars said, “our purpose and intent is to save the children,” and presented the following goals of Project AWARE:
• Increase participation of the community (including families and youth) and mental health providers (including school-based and community-based providers) in efforts to identify the mental health resources available to meet the needs of the students and families.
• Increase awareness and identification of mental health and behavior concerns, and student and family access to mental health providers through the PBIS framework. PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) is an evidence-based, data-driven framework proven to reduce disciplinary incidents, increase a school’s sense of safety and support improved academic outcomes.
• Increase the percentage of youth and families receiving needed mental health services through collaboration between local schools and community mental health providers. McIntosh Trail is one of the many local providers.
• Train educators, first responders, and parents to respond to mental health needs of youth.
The school system is offering “Youth Mental Health First Aid Training,” a one-day session, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., on Aug. 19, Aug, 26 and Sept. 2. To sign up for these, please see www.spalding.k12.ga.us/pages/GSCS_District-Central/Departments/Project_Aware/Extra_Resources.
Byars said there is a limit to 30 people per session. Three more dates are planned, but times may change or sessions may be split up if there demand. An interested parent, at Thursday’s presentation asked about that, with concerns about a later start time, so she could get her children off to school first, with others concerned about being home when the children get out of school.
Those interested in sessions at a different time can contact Byars at 770-229-3700, ext. 418, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For parents and caregivers interested in local resources, there is a list at on the Project AWARE page on the school system website. www.spalding.k12.ga.us/pages/GSCS_District-Central/Departments/Project_Aware/
Ray Lightner, staff
Griffin Daily News
August 9, 2015