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HorizonsatSacred Heart, Fairfield Public Schools receive CT youth mental health grant

Journal Inquirer - 8/21/2023

Aug. 21—"The need for mental health support services among youths does not stop at the end of the school year, and these grants will enable these critical services to continue during the summer months," Gov. Ned Lamont said in the release.

Ashley Nechaev — the executive director of Horizons at Sacred Heart University, which equips nearly 170 Bridgeport youth with educational, recreational, artistic, social and emotional support over six weeks — said the grant will fund the program's Trauma Informed Care Project to promote "restorative practices," which intend to forge personal relationships within a community.

She said the grant will fund a 4-person social and emotional learning team for the project, comprised of a school social worker, a cognitive behavioral therapist, a restorative practices facilitator and an equity and belonging coach. She said Sacred Heart formed the team this summer with the hope of receiving funding for the grant, which the Horizons program applied for in June.

"This will assist in this trauma informed practice initiative for three years, and so we're just thankful to the (Department of Education) and also to Sacred Heart, especially RSP, the Research and Sponsored Programs Department, for helping us hit the ground," she said.

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The project also offers weekly teacher support group sessions, which a psychotherapist and drama therapist lead for the roughly 50-person staff at Horizons, who can discuss "self-regulation," or personal behavior control, and challenges at work.

Nechaev said teachers receive little trauma and emotional response training, which is especially critical after the pandemic when teacher wellbeing has declined and traumatic experiences among students have increased, she said. She added parents of children who participated in Horizons at Sacred Heart reported noticing a "great impact" in their children's social and emotional learning this summer during stressful or disappointing moments.

"I think that's the greatest testament, when a child outside the program is practicing using skills and strategies and tools that you've given them or that the team has given them at home all by themselves," Nechaev said.

Nechaev said the program's grant funding will total $21,340 for the 2024 and 2025 fiscal years and $14,938 in 2026.

The state grant funding shrinks by 70 percent in the third year and pulls from American Rescue Plan Act funding allocated for youth mental health services in schools, according to the Connecticut release. Grant recipients will need to attend a training session and fill out "compliance documents" to spend the grant money, according to the release.

FPS Superintendent Michael Testani declined to say what the state grant would fund within Fairfield schools, but the school district will plan to implement "additional social emotional components" by the summer of 2024.

"We are pleased to have been awarded funding under the Summer Mental Health Supports Grant program and look forward to further engaging students in social emotional learning skills in Fairfield," Testani said in an email.


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