RTHS receives nearly $100,000 from state to strengthen mental health services

Rochelle Township High School was recently the recipient of nearly $100,000 in grant funds from the Illinois Department of Public Health to strengthen its mental health resources, Principal Chris Lewis said Nov. 1.

Grant will provide more counseling access, education and training to students and staff

ROCHELLE – Rochelle Township High School was recently the recipient of nearly $100,000 in grant funds from the Illinois Department of Public Health to strengthen its mental health resources, Principal Chris Lewis said Nov. 1. 

The state awarded $9.5 million in funding to 40 different applicants across the state to support post-pandemic child and adolescent health. RTHS will receive $99,669.42. Sixty percent of the grants are going to schools, 20 percent to hospital or clinic-based programs, 17.5 percent to local health departments and 2.5 percent to colleges.

Lewis said RTHS’s grant was written by School Nurse Ashley Lawrenz and titled ‘Expansion of Mental Health Services and Resources in School Post-COVID-19 Recovery’ seeking funding to better support students with mental health needs. 

“RTHS will primarily use the funding to provide more access to in-person counseling services for students who identify as needing additional support,” Lewis said. “Specifically, the grant will provide students with greater access to mental health counseling, especially those related to social and emotional well-being. These additional counseling services will work closely with RTHS’s current counseling department and social workers to provide the best possible on-site service for RTHS students.”

Currently, Sinnissippi Centers provides 75 hours of service to RTHS, Lewis said, and with the monies from the grant, RTHS will be able to have an additional mental health professional available to students every day. 

With the grant funds, in addition to greater access to more counseling services, the RTHS administration will provide more education regarding mental health and coping skills during the school day. 

With the funding, Lawrenz, as well as Sinnissippi Centers, will supply mental health education and training to students and staff. Part of the funding will also go towards supplying students with coping resources. 

“RTHS is not alone in the greater need for mental health services for students,” Lewis said. “According to the CDC, in Illinois alone, more than one in three high school students experienced, or are experiencing, poor mental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like others in Illinois and across the nation, RTHS has seen an increased need for mental health support among the student population.”

The IDPH funding is primarily from the CDC’s COVID-19 Public Health Workforce Supplemental Funding program authorized by the federal American Rescue Plan Act, and is being offered to help schools and local agencies improve student care through workforce enhancements, developing frameworks to prevent adverse childhood experiences, interventions to assist children suffering from trauma, and training for medical and school staff to expand adolescent mental health resources, a state press release said.

“We recognize that the last few years have presented numerous challenges for all of us, and this is especially so for our youth,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in the state press release. “Thanks to this infusion of federal funding, we are strengthening school-based programs and local agencies that serve the mental health needs of young people all across Illinois. I applaud the Biden Administration for recognizing the need to direct resources to these kinds of programs that support our youth.”

More than 50 percent of the applicants for the funding opportunity are receiving funding.

The proposals outlined numerous different strategies to strengthen mental health services for students across Illinois. They included developing student support programs and offering specialized curriculums in areas like stress management and nutrition; providing mental health training, education and support for teachers; providing such training for all school personnel; creating suicide awareness and prevention efforts; creating plans for mental health outreach; developing plans to address mental health needs during current and future public health emergencies; hiring counselors and other mental health professionals; and providing telehealth counseling and evaluation services.

Lewis said the grant funding and improved mental health resources at RTHS could aid in improving student attendance.

“One contributing factor to poor attendance at school is related to diminished mental health,” Lewis said. “RTHS's primary emphasis this year has revolved around enhancing our rates of daily attendance and chronic absenteeism. Students who receive these additional supports could demonstrate a higher likelihood of attending school, thereby aligning with our school's objectives for improvement.”