Ahead of a school year that will be unlike any other in history, Kaiser Permanente has awarded a total of $1.5 million in Thriving Schools mental health grants to five Colorado school districts.
One of the recipients is Pueblo County School District 70, which accepted a $300,000 award during Tuesday’s virtual board meeting.
The grant, which will be distributed over three years, is designed to help the district expand implementation of Kaiser Permanente’s Resilience in School Environments initiative (RISE).
This initiative empowers schools to create safe and supportive learning environments by cultivating practices that strengthen the social and emotional health of school employees and students.
In light of the current pandemic, the mental health of staff and students is a paramount concern.
“We’ve supported the physical, emotional and mental well-being of students, teachers, and staff in Colorado for more than 50 years: it’s part of who we are,” said Mike Ramseier, president for Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are aligning our Thriving Schools grants to address today’s unique challenges and are excited to provide this support for districts across Colorado.”
In D70, the $300,000 grant will support implementing Thriving Schools RISE framework in 20 schools across the district.
The resources and training are designed to increase staff job satisfaction and reduce stress; improve safety, connectedness, and relationships among students and staff; and boost student and staff social-emotional learning.
“We realize that this year, more than ever, we need to be mindful of the mental toll this pandemic has taken on our students and staff,” said Ed Smith, D70 superintendent. “With the recent budget cuts to schools, we know that any extra programs would be difficult to create and maintain.
“Thriving Schools RISE will help D70 provide the foundation and training that will ultimately benefit our community, and we thank Kaiser Permanente for their continued support and this amazing grant.”
All Thriving Schools grants are supported by technical assistance and evaluation support provided by Colorado Education Initiative and Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
Also on Tuesday, the D70 board accepted a $6,000 Alliance for a Healthier Generation Food Access Grant and a $4,000 grant from Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
Monetary donations in the amount of $6,000, from the Colorado Health Foundation, and $20,000 from Pueblo Area Agency on Aging were likewise accepted.
Smith and district leadership lauded Brian Axworthy, the district’s interim program director for food services, and the nutrition team for their role in securing the grants and cash awards.
“We been blessed by some local, state and national organizations over the last few months,” Axworthy told the board Tuesday. “We been reaching out to help provide food to several different groups of people in our community.
“We are using these grant funds to put health and wellness programs in place at various schools, and some of the funds were used to help feed adults during the summer lunch program.”
Added Smith, “The ability to provide those increased mental health and stress management supports will be invaluable. I also want to thank our nutrition department for recognizing that food service sometimes is more than filling stomachs: it’s taking care of the whole body.”
On Monday, D70 will open the school year with a fully remote (online) platform. After four weeks of distance learning, the district anticipates transitioning into a hybrid model that will combine in-person and distance instruction.
The timeline, however, is dependent on local COVID-19 case numbers, which continue to be monitored by district staff.
“The district is using a number of different metrics to determine how schools open,” Seip told the board. “Local seven-day positive case averages, infection and epidemic curves, hospital status, and age of case counts are some of the Pueblo county numbers we are reviewing.”
After the month of remote learning, the board will review local COVID metrics on Sept. 15 to determine if the switch to hybrid classes can begin on Sept. 21.
On Oct. 6, the board again will review metrics in order to determine if full in-person instruction can begin on Oct. 12.
This week, 1,600 district Chromebooks were delivered to families, with another 2,200 on the way. Desk shields, face masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, gowns, and other protective equipment also are headed to teachers.
“We are finding that suppliers have devices and items for sale, but not many in stock,” Seip told the board. “There is a nationwide shortage of computer devices, along with shipping delays from U.S. Customs Ports of Entry.
“Items promised two months ago are just now arriving. But we are getting those devices and personal protective equipment out to schools as soon as they get to our warehouse.”
In a letter to the school community, Smith reiterated the necessity of remaining flexible.
“We have never had to open the school year in a remote environment,” Smith wrote. “There are many anxious and nervous staff members, including us, wondering what those ’first days of school’ will look like.
“But to quote the famous Harry Wong: ’The reason successful teachers are so effective is that they have learned to continually adapt.’ And adapt you have.”
Chieftain reporter Jon Pompia can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at twitter.com/jpompia. Help support local journalism by subscribing to the Chieftain at chieftain.com/subscribenow