November 7, 2019

Mental health support in schools gets $3.4 million boost

Highline Public Schools, Northwest Educational Service District build multi-tier systems, 4 other districts lay the foundation with grants from Kaiser Permanente.

Today students need a variety of supports to address growing mental health challenges, and schools increasingly recognize that they can’t do it alone — it takes an integrated model connecting schools, families, and community resources to give kids the best chance.

Addressing mental health needs through a systematic approach so students, staff, and teachers can thrive is at the heart of the $3.4 million in grants Kaiser Permanente in Washington recently awarded 6 school districts.  

Highline Public Schools and Northwest Educational Service District (supporting Sedro Wooley and Mount Vernon school districts with these funds) are building out multi-tiered systems of supports, referred to as MTSS, for mental health in schools with the help of 2 $1.5 million, 3-year grants. Bellingham, Kent, Tenino, and North Thurston districts are establishing the framework for this model, thanks to another $400,000 in grants from the Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools program.

MTSS is a service delivery framework that focuses on prevention and problem-solving through academic and nonacademic interventions, supports, and services available in schools and communities to eliminate barriers to learning and teaching.

“Connecting with children and adolescents in safe spaces, like schools, enables earlier detection, intervention, and support in addressing mental health issues,” said Ashok Shimoji-Krishnan, MD, Kaiser Permanente child psychiatrist. “This approach also creates awareness and decreases stigma around getting help for mental health concerns.”

Early detection is only as powerful as the support that’s available when concerns are identified. “Establishing a clear process for varying levels of support that connect students, families, teachers, and staff with community resources will be powerful,” said Clint Carlton, director, Special Programs and Services, for the Mount Vernon School District.

The tiers of support in MTSS increase in intensity from one level to the next. For example, some kids receiving small-group interventions may need to move up to one-on-one help. The goal is to be responsive to changing needs and keep students in school as they work through issues.

“There is a lot of great work happening in our schools to support student mental health. This grant will allow us to bring it all together so we can serve students even better,” said Doug Judge, director of social-emotional learning at Highline Public Schools. “It will also support the emotional health and well-being of our staff.”

Jill Patnode, Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools program manager, said, “A recent statewide environmental scan of schools across the region clearly identified mental health needs as a top priority and deep interest in this model.” Shared during the MTSS Fest hosted by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the scan served as the basis for the design of these grants.