Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. has received $1.1 million from the Lilly Endowment to help students who are dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, homelessness and other issues.

The funding will allow the district to develop a two-tiered approach focused on prevention and providing acute care to prekindergarten through 12th-grade students in conjunction with community health partners such as Centerstone, Family Services Inc. and Columbus Regional Health, said Bill Jensen, BCSC director of secondary education.

The local program will involve identifying students who might be dealing with problems ranging from drug or alcohol abuse to domestic issues, addressing gaps between inpatient and outpatient services, removing barriers that impede mental health wellness, monitoring the follow-through of parents and caregivers in services that are provided and empowering students to address mental health issues and removing stigmas around such conversations, Jensen said.

The Lilly funds will help continue such work already started across the district, Jensen said.

BCSC received a $100,000 grant earlier this year from Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County as part of the Counseling Counts Community Initiative through the Lilly Endowment that focuses on improving the mental health needs of students. With that funding, the district already has hired a systems coordinator, Doug Moore, a retired director of guidance counseling at Columbus East High School, Jensen said.

The Lilly Endowment funding, which is 10 times larger than the Heritage Fund grant, will be received all at once, although the district hasn’t determined how much it will spend annually, Jensen said.

BCSC sought the Lilly Endowment grant after school counselors indicated they were becoming overwhelmed with addressing the social and emotional well being of students as part of their job duties, beyond traditional guidance-counselor support for students, Jensen said.

Kristin Schuetz, director of the Columbus East High School counseling department, said she has seen an increase in students dealing with anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide in the past five years.

“We want students to get the appropriate care that they need,” Schuetz said.

Schuetz added that she believes the grant funding will be a benefit to the district as a whole.

Based on grant applications received by the endowment, other Indiana school districts also have counselors who often don’t have the time they need for academic and college and career advising because they must also address students’ social and emotional challenges, the endowment reported.

“The response from school corporations and charter schools far exceeded the endowment’s expectations,” said Sara B. Cobb, vice president of education with the Lilly Endowment. “We believe that this response demonstrates a growing awareness that enhanced and expanded counseling programs are urgently needed to address the academic, college, career and social and emotional counseling needs of Indiana’s K-12 students.

The endowment was pleased to see how schools engaged community stakeholders to assess their students’ counseling needs and developing strategies to address them, Cobb said.

Statewide initiative

The Lilly Endowment grants are part of a five-year initiative to encourage the state’s public school corporations and charter schools to develop best-practice comprehensive counseling models to address academic, college and career planning, and social and emotional counseling needs of students.

Schools in 30 of Indiana’s 92 counties, serving 250,000 K-12 students, received the Lilly grants.

While many details still have to be worked out, Jensen said he hopes to leverage services that Columbus Regional Health and Centerstone offer as part of the district’s efforts. The goal is to bring different community organizations together to best address the mental health needs of students, he said.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Jensen said. “The key here is that it’s not just a program. It creates a community system.”

Jensen said there are two tiers the district would like to focus on.

The first is the preventative side, building up the assets and strengths in students. The second tier involves acute care that would allow students access to different agencies in the community such as Centerstone, Family Services and Columbus Regional Health, he said.

Assessing mental-health needs

In assessing the district’s needs, BCSC surveyed guidance counselors throughout the district. Additionally, representatives from Miami University’s Center for School-Based Mental Health Programs in Oxford, Ohio, visited Columbus in the spring to interview individuals from Centerstone, Family Service and other health organizations.

That information helped identify heath-service gaps that exist and to come up with suggestions on how to fill them, submitted as part of the district’s application to Lilly Endowment for grant support, he said.

The initiative by the endowment has already been beneficial to school districts across the state, said Tami Silverman, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute.

“Increased achievement in academics, social-emotional well-being and college or career preparedness benefits our students, our communities and our state,” Silverman said. “The Lilly Comprehensive Counseling Initiative has sparked renewed interest in the role counselors play in overall student success and helps us see the unique opportunities we have to work with school counselors to address the ever-changing and complex needs of today’s students.”

Jensen said he hopes the district can eventually develop a sustainable system that will likely involve some aspect of training for BCSC staff as well.

“It’s going to take some small steps to make this happen,” Jensen said.

About the grant

The grants awarded by the Lilly Endowment will allow school corporations and charter schools to collaborate with mental healthcare providers to address students’ social and emotional challenges.

The funding can also be used to provide professional development to teachers, counselors and administrators so they can identify and address those issues to improve students’ overall well-being. The endowment awarded $26.4 million in grant money across Indiana in its second round of funding.

Lilly Endowment top 10 grant recipients

1) Indianapolis Public Schools: $2,871,400

2) Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp.: $2,154,400

3) Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Fishers: $2,103,501

4) Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township (Marion County): $1,527,400

5) Metropolitan School District of Pike Township (Marion County): $1,114,700

6) New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.: $1,130,000

7) Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.: $1,110,000

8) Monroe County Community School Corp.: $1,072,700

9) Avon Community School Corp.: $792,005

10) Warsaw Community Schools: $701,100

Agencies providing assistance

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. won a $1.1 million Lilly Endowment grant with the support of many community programs and agencies.

CivicLab (Jack Hess, Amber Fischvogt, John Burnett)

Bartholomew County Juvenile Justice

Centerstone

Community Education Coalition

Columbus Regional Health

Council for Youth Development

Cummins Foundation

Family Services Inc.

Foundation for Youth

Heritage Fund

iGrad

Inspire Health Partners

Miami University Center for School-Based Mental Health Programs

United Way of Bartholomew County

Author photo
Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com