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Grant Wood AEA announces pilot programs to expand mental health access to 32 Iowa school districts

LINN COUNTY, Iowa (KWWL) — School districts across seven Eastern Iowa counties are going to see increased mental health support as of this academic year.

This effort was announced today, by the Grant Wood Area Education Agency.

A lot of schools across the state are looking at ways they can help support students, families, and teachers.

Now, Grant Wood AEA along with Foundation 2, Tanager Place, and Covenant Family Solutions are stepping in with three pilot programs, they hope can be a solution.

“Sometimes very, very hard to get therapists even to come out to our buildings at north cedar,” said North Cedar Community School District Superintendent, Mark Dohem during the conference.

50% of students 14 years and older with a mental illness will drop out, according to Iowa’s Department of Education. The department also says 1 in 5 high schools have a mental illness. That’s a lot of students at risk.

“We have 32 districts and we talked to them and asked them to identify maybe a handful or their largest needs. Every one of them named mental health and or behavioral issues,” said Grant Wood AEA Chief Administrator, John Speer.

Now local resources like Tanager Place and Foundation 2 have teamed up to offer districts across Iowa some solutions. 

“One of the big needs is access to really competent mental health counseling so that’s the goal of two of the three, so site-based and J-Fast. That’s either getting licensed or mental health counselors on a regular basis or on a crisis situation,” said Speer.

The College Community School District gave one of the programs called Interconnected System Framework Sites or ISF a try last year says Executive Director of Learning Supports, Laura Medberry, “Tanager provides us with either half time or full-time therapists at all of our schools.”

“That’s something not all of our teachers are getting in colleges and universities right now,” said Dohem.

Each program’s ultimate goal is to better equip staff on how to deal with behavior issues and connect students with counselors no matter where they go to school.

“There’s no reason to believe that you can’t get the same type of service in mid-prairie, solon, central city, as you do in Cedar Rapids,” said Speer.

Ultimately, the pilot programs have the potential to expand mental health access to 70,000 Eastern Iowa students, with the biggest impact being felt in rural communities.

Earlier this year, Governor Reynolds announced $2.1 million for children’s mental health in schools.

Grant Wood AEA says the programs are being paid for in part with state funding as well as money from the district’s themselves.

Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids

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