The Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE) at the University of Denver (DU) has a vision for happy, healthy children and families living in vibrant rural communities. The Colorado Health Foundation has stepped in to “Make it Happen” with a $4.9 million grant awarded to CRSHE to increase healthy eating and physical activity among high poverty, rural students and school staff. CRSHE, already a known partner in rural Colorado, will build on existing partnerships with 27 rural school districts to support them in implementing community-driven comprehensive health and wellness plans. CRSHE’s involvement in this process is key; it helps rural districts identify and successfully implement culturally relevant evidence-based practices. The Make it Happen grant period kicked off in October with expected completion in Oct. 2021.

“I’m excited for our rural school district partners. They’ve worked hard to develop thoughtful health and wellness plans and now have both financial resources and CRSHE support to put those plans in place,” said CRSHE Executive Director, Elaine Belansky, PhD.

According to Belansky, one of the top concerns of rural districts is mental health. With that in mind, CRSHE is also launching The Resiliency Project, specifically designed to complement Make it Happen by promoting youth mental health and resiliency. This effort is also generously funded by the Colorado Health Foundation and makes it possible for CRSHE to continue providing hands-on support in rural Colorado through in person meetings with rural educators to discuss mental health promotion strategies and a regional convening to share the latest best practices and school success stories. CRSHE will capitalize on DU’s state-of-the-art ECHO-DU technology, a virtual professional learning tool, in order to provide rural educators information about the latest best practices on topics such as social-emotional learning, suicide prevention, and bullying prevention.

“I’m thankful to the Colorado Health Foundation for recognizing that youth mental health is a top priority in rural Colorado school districts,” continued Belansky. “Allotting funds to address that need allows all of us to keep the momentum going.”

As a leader in Colorado’s Creede School District, Grants Manager and Health and Wellness Coordinator Lauren Sheldrake is looking at ways Make it Happen and the Resiliency Project can impact her constituents.

“In the past year, we have seen a significant increase in the mental health needs of our students and staff,” Sheldrake said. “The grant and these partnerships can open a door to addressing Colorado’s mental health crisis, creating the vibrant communities CRSHE envisions.”

Over the weekend, Elaine was able to chat with Colorado Public Radio about the project and ways the funding will be used in rural districts.

DENVER – The Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE) at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education has been funded by the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute to create a taskforce to address and combat the growing youth mental health crisis. Called the Community-University Partnership (CUP), the taskforce is comprised of 11 individuals with expertise in the areas of San Luis Valley K-12 schools and mental health services, evidence-based practices to promote student health and wellness, community-based participatory research, culturally and linguistically responsive mental health services, adverse childhood  experiences, positive youth development, and resiliency. The goal is to create a community informed, data driven, evidence-based action plan that can be implemented across all 14 San Luis Valley school districts to improve the social-emotional health of all San Luis Valley K-12 students.

 

“I was thrilled to find out we were funded and couldn’t wait to share the good news with our San Luis Valley Community Advisory Board,” said Dr. Elaine Belansky, CRSHE director and lead academic partner from Morgridge College. “The board went through an extensive ‘Year of Learning’ process that culminated in a decision to establish an upstream approach to addressing adverse childhood experiences. While the community has many assets, it also faces challenges of poverty and opioid addiction. This grant gives us the opportunity to take an important next step in making sure students have the coping and life skills they need to be healthy and happy.”

 

The action plan will include strategies related to 1) professional development for teachers on trauma-informed instruction, self-care to avoid teacher burnout and compassion fatigue, and meeting mental health needs of students; 2) evidence-based practices to implement in schools such as social emotional learning curricula to build youth resiliency, communication skills, and positive self-esteem; 3) systems-level strategies to align, coordinate, and leverage resources across key partners; 4) strategies to address the mental health workforce shortage by increasing clinical services through innovative partnerships with universities. Once the action plan has been established, the taskforce will develop a separate grant proposal to implement.

 

The long-term goal is to equip teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to support children’s social-emotional needs in the classroom, increase mental health clinical services by finding creative ways for universities to partner with communities, and help children obtain the knowledge and skills they need to be healthy and happy individuals.

 

The taskforce will begin its work this summer.

 

Community Partner: Clarissa Woodworth, Operations Director of Center for Restorative Programs

Academic Researcher:  Elaine Belansky, Director of Center for Rural School Health & Education

Funding period:  May 1, 2019-April 30, 2020, Funded by the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute

 

 

 

About DU’s Morgridge College of Education(MCE): MCE is a graduate college of education dedicated to creating positive change by unleashing the power of learning. The college infuses social justice, diversity and inclusion across its 23 advanced degrees in higher ed, teacher prep, public policy, special ed, counseling psychology, research methods, and information science.

The University of Denver (DU) Morgridge College of Education (MCE) Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE) will be expanding its work in rural communities with the addition of a new grant-funded initiative through the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) Plan into Action Grants. CRSHE’s goal with this initiative is to create a robust rural school mental health workforce in order to meet the mental health needs of rural students and provide classroom teachers with the support they need by increasing the number of mental health professionals placed in rural schools. MCE will work with state and community partners in southeast Colorado to build and sustain a rural school mental health workforce that can alleviate some of the pressures classroom teachers face in trying to meet those students’ emotional needs. The University anticipates that teacher retention rates will increase as a result of teachers feeling more supported in the classroom.

CRSHE director, Dr. Elaine Belansky, has been working in rural schools in Colorado for 19 years. While new to DU, Belansky is not new to challenges faced by rural communities.

“I have been working with rural school districts since 1999 and what’s striking to me is that in the past few years, every rural school district our team works with has named student mental health as a top concern,” Belansky said. “We don’t have enough school mental health professionals to meet the needs of rural students and classroom teachers are under a lot of pressure to teach content and meet the mental health needs of their kids. This grant gives us an opportunity to address these challenges.”

The $123,950 grant will allow Belansky and her team to partner with the Colorado Rural Education Collaborative and two Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to create strategies aimed at increasing the school mental health workforce across underserved areas of the state. The grant consists of three components:

  • Conduct an immersion in Southeast Colorado for school mental health graduate students
  • Develop a statewide Professional Learning Community for school mental health professionals via ECHO DU
  • Create a hiring forecast that includes cost-effective, innovative strategies to meet rural school mental health workforce demands

The long-term goals and impact of the grant are to see an increase in the rural school mental health workforce, increased teacher retention rates, and increased mental health of rural students. The 12 month grant period begins fall 2018.


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