Supporting the mental health and wellness of students is critical to facilitating their academic achievement. Meeting the mental health needs of students and providing them with the necessary tools through social and emotional learning helps them lead a balanced and healthy life, through their educational years and beyond.
On June 25, 2022, President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). As part of this legislation, Congress authorized $1 billion in formula funding under Title IV, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) to State Educational Agencies (SEAs) to provide students with safer and healthier learning environments through the Safer Communities Grant (SCG) program. New Jersey received an allocation of funding totaling $20,905,551, of which, 99% ($20,696,495) will be distributed to high-need local educational agencies (LEAs) through a competitive grant process. The grant application was open to New Jersey’s public high-need LEAs, including Charter and Renaissance schools, included in Appendix 1 of the BSCA SCG Notice of Grant Opportunity (NGO). The deadline for LEAs to submit application for this grant concluded May 31, 2023. The project period for awardees is September 1, 2023 through September 30, 2025.
In December of 2022, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) was awarded the School Based Mental Health Services (SBMHS) Grant from the United States Department of Education. The total award for this 5-year grant period is over $14 million (exclusive of state matching funds). These funds will provide New Jersey the resources required to increase the number of qualified school-based mental health professionals (SBMHP) in Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) demonstrating increased need for school-based mental health services.
The NJDOE will distribute funds to LEAs through a grant process that will target communities with higher levels of poverty and the greatest need. The program will not only focus on expanding the number of mental-health professionals working in school districts, but it will also help diversify the cohort of professionals who provide school-based mental-health services to students, while supporting activities to increase the recruitment, retention, and expertise of school-based mental health professionals. A portion of the funds will be used to provide training opportunities to prospective and current school-based mental health providers, as well as other key stakeholders in the educational community.
203 high-needs LEAs were identified as eligible for this grant program. As of June 2023, 11 LEAs have been selected to participate from varying geographical areas in New Jersey. Each of these LEAs has an Institute of Higher Education (IHE) partner who will support their overall project design, while creating a pipeline of SBMHP in high-needs LEAs.
In addition to support from Governor Murphy and state agencies including the Department of Children and Families, Human Services, Health, and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, these grants received support from the New Jersey State Board of Education President, state and federal legislators, universities, educator associations, and mental health practitioner associations. The NJDOE is actively working with solidifying additional partnerships to support the selected LEAs and the overall project design.
The following ARP funded programs are either being led or supported by the Department of Education support the mission of Governor Murphy’s Strengthening Youth Mental Health Initiative:
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) will utilize $3.6 million to expand its past pilot partnership with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), Developing Resiliency with Engaging Approaches to Maximize Success (DREAMS), for an additional three years beginning with the 2023-2024 school year. DREAMS provides a trauma-education series to school staff, coupled with training in the Nurtured Heart Approach through a train-the-trainer model, thus providing a transformative trauma-informed and healing-centered method of improving positive relationships amongst both staff and students, as well as building students’ Inner Wealth™ to support the development of safe and supportive learning environments.
The Department of Human Services (DHS), in partnership with the NJDOE, will provide a $2.7 million funding opportunity for Teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) training for high schools. The tMHFA program aims to build mental health awareness to identify early signs of mental health needs and equip participants tools they need to effectively support those around them. Educators and staff will receive training on MFA, which they will use to train their peers and students. This model will allow for the continuation of this training in perpetuity, with impacts lasting long after ARP funding ends. Educators are encouraged to attend information sessions to learn how they can bring tMHFA to their schools. DHS will launch a similar initiative at the higher education level in partnership with the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.
The NJDOE will utilize $3.3 million to strengthen educator and staff training for supporting youth mental health and education. The efforts will include:
- Interactive training, a statewide conference, and public awareness campaign on youth suicide prevention.
- A statewide Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) professional development series specifically tailored for school staff in leadership positions and aimed to supplement the current SEL Modules available for educators.
- The New Jersey Enhancing School Mental Health Services Project. A collaborative effort between the New Jersey Department of Education and the Rutgers Center for Comprehensive School Mental Health. This project represents the “next step” following the collaborative development of the New Jersey Comprehensive School Mental Health Resource Guide. It aims to support schools in implementing comprehensive school mental health systems by enhancing educators’ knowledge through training and technical assistance. The multi-pronged approach includes launching the Technical Assistance and Leadership Academy for 50 New Jersey Schools and Statewide training available to all school districts.