Back in October, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced school mental health grants to be awarded to three school districts: Elk City, Weatherford, and Woodward.
Since receiving the grant money, Woodward has implemented several measures to help support mental health in its students.
According to Community Manager Amy Whitewater, the grant is used for increasing mental health awareness, providing mental health services for students, linking to services in the community that are already existing, and more.
The program is called Project AWARE, which stands for Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education.
“I think that the whole goal of the grant is to increase mental health services within rural communities,” said Dalinda Hix, licensed clinical social worker and AWARE counselor. “… The reason we got the grant was not a good thing. It was because there were less services in this area.”
Although things are only beginning to get off the ground, Whitewater believes there is a lot to come.
“We do have some things planned,” Whitewater said. “We are working on a parent night which will be in February. We are bringing in a fabulous guest speaker who will talk to the parents, and he’s also going to speak to students that day about what we call adverse childhood experiences and how he overcame them.”
Plans are in the works to create an Advisory Committee or Counsel to be a part of the program.
“An Advisory Council of people within the community to help us plan what we’re going to do moving forward,” Whitewater said. “We know we want some parents. We want some community leaders, if people have a vested interest in mental health.”
The program will also fund training for teachers at each site for youth mental health first aid and provide mental health screenings for each student twice a year.
“It’s kind of like a crisis response,” Whitewater said. “I think youth mental health first aid, I think it helps teachers to recognize red flag behavior.”
Though not related to Project AWARE, the school district has implemented several online programs recently to deter bullying and address threatening or suicidal behavior.
STOPit is an app that students can download to anonymously report incidents through text, pictures, or video. The reports are then sent to the principal of the respective school to be handled properly, according to Whitewater.
Woodward Schools have also initiated an online program designed to monitor student email accounts and GoogleDrives used for school work. Gaggle works to reveal potentially harmful content in email, documents, shared files, images, photos and more, according to Gaggle. The flagged content is sent to trained professionals who evaluate it and alert school officials of unsafe situations, and can even contact law enforcement in the case of imminent danger.
The newest online program is Social Sentinel. This system monitors safety/security threats made on public social media.
“We built our service to asses public social media across multiple platforms to detect potential acts of harm or threat relevant to our clients,” read Social Sentinel’s website.
According to Superintendent of Schools Kyle Reynolds, these programs have the potential to severely reduce bullying, potentially dangerous situations for the schools such as shootings, and help get students the mental health support they need should the occasion call for it.