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Federal Grant to Provide Mental Health Support for Some South Dakota Schools

SD Department of Education

The South Dakota Departments of Education and Social Services are partnering under a federal grant to improve mental health services in schools. Selected school districts will begin receiving support services as soon as next month. 

The $8.7 million Project AWARE grant comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant funds awareness efforts related to behavioral and mental health issues, as well as increased supports for schools and surrounding communities over a period of five years.

Mary Stadick Smith is South Dakota’s interim secretary of education. She says schools around the state have reported a rise in behavioral and mental health problems over the last few years. She says this grant will begin to address those issues on a small scale with a pilot group of four districts.

Stadick Smith says the funds will also place a counselor in each of those districts.

“And that counselor really serves as a point person then to work with mental health professionals within the community mental health centers who can connect students and their families to the appropriate mental health supports,” she says.

Stadick Smith says efforts will focus on middle school ages, although educators are noticing issues in even younger age groups.

“You know maybe it used to be high school, then middle school, and now they’re seeing it more in even elementary school—and just, middle school is such a critical point in a young person’s life,” she adds.

Stadick Smith says the Department of Education is in talks with the Sioux Falls school district, the Bridgewater-Emery district, the Wagner area district and the Black Hills Special Services Coop.

Once confirmed, the districts will begin receiving supports through the grant in October.