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  • Dylan Anderson

$1.9 million grant ensures Steamboat Schools will maintain, increase mental health supports

Steamboat's program has become a model for schools across the state and schools across Routt County also got funding to increase mental and behavioral health support positions.

Steamboat Springs School District
A $1.9 million grant from the Colorado Department of Education will allow the Steamboat Springs School District to maintain and increase its mental and behavioral health offerings for students. (Steamboat Springs School District/Courtesy)

In recent years the Steamboat Springs School District has worked to increase its mental and behavioral health offerings in an effort to help students focus more in the classroom on their education. The program is designed to meet students and parents where they are and craft a plan to give students the support they need.

Shelby DeWolfe, the district’s behavioral health and restorative practices coordinator who has been overseeing this program, said this comprehensive programming has worked to improve the culture and climate in schools across the district.

“We have a continuum from prevention, to intervention to crisis response,” DeWolfe said. “We’re meeting a wide variety … It opens up opportunities for our school counselors to then go in and really use their expertise of doing prevention and universal skill building for all kids rather than responding to maybe these higher-level (issues).”

This programming has relied on a variety of funding sources from local donors like UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation and the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board.

But a theme at the school board level in recent years when discussing this programming is what happens when the grant funding ends — what happens to the numerous grant-funded mental and behavioral health positions when that grant funding is no longer available? More than half of such positions are currently funded by grants, many of which are set to end this school year.

The district received an answer to that question earlier this month when it received a nearly $2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Education School Health Professional Grant program — the largest such grant received by any rural school district in the state. The funding amounts to nearly $650,000 for each of the next three years and not only allows the district to keep this support in place, but expand what it offers.

“With this new funding we are able to maintain the service providers, as well as the programming to date and then we get to continue to realize our vision further by increasing come contracts with some service providers as well as increase our school health professionals assigned to particular schools,” DeWolfe said. “We’re going to be able to have a school health professional in each school. It’s huge.”

DeWolfe said previously they asked health professionals to move around between schools to offer services to students and others were only part-time roles. It was also sometimes hard to fill positions that only had grant funding for one year, as some potential hires didn’t want to take the leap of moving to Steamboat Springs without commitment that the job would be around for more than one year.

The new grant funding offers more security to these potential hires, DeWolfe said, and the district has created a plan to absorb these positions in the coming years to utilize district funding and not grants.

“We’re have really looked at a vision of how can we absorb every year a little bit so that it is actually sustainable,” DeWolfe said. “Providers have a lot more confidence in the fact that they’re going to not be out of a job when the grant expires.”

It will also allow the district to increase the contracts it has with local providers in town, which can specialize in particular aspects of mental and behavioral health services and better address students’ unique needs. This aspect has really started in the past year and can offer students and their families services during the school day, which can remove barriers created when asking practitioners and families to find appointments outside of school hours.

Parents are always involved in this programming, though some choose to be more involved than others, DeWolfe said. Treatment plans are always crafted with parents involved and they always work with families to get permission before implementing a plan, DeWolfe said.

DeWolfe said they are able to offer a wide variety of services as the landscape of education and mental health services in schools has significantly evolved. This includes overcoming maladaptive patterns of behaviors exasperated during the pandemic (maladaptive means not providing adequate or appropriate adjustment to the learning environment). Other services seek to address suicidal ideation or thinking, depression and anxiety and give students support as they are going through trauma that can occur in and out of school.

“Sometimes when those issues are so present, it’s hard for kids to manage their behaviors to focus and access education,” DeWolfe said. “When we can provide therapeutic interventions with appropriate treatment planning and support, we’re able to increase their ability to function in school and access that learning.”

The level of mental and behavioral programming in the Steamboat Springs School District is not common throughout Colorado and the local approach has become a model for schools around the state, DeWolfe said. It can be particularly important in rural communities like Steamboat simply because access to providers isn’t as robust as it may be on the Front Range.

“This is an issue across the state and schools are working hard to figure out how to best address that in their own community,” DeWolfe said. “I think in many ways we have a pretty robust program that other schools are trying to model after.”

That can be seen in the latest grant awards, with other schools in Routt County getting similar funding from the Colorado Department of Education. The South Routt School District got nearly $275,000 a year for three years, which will fund one school social worker and one school counselor. The Hayden School District got nearly $190,000 a year for three years for one school social worker position and Steamboat Montessori School got about $97,000 a year for three years for a school health professional position.

In all, these grants amount to $3.6 million in state funding over the next three years to schools in Routt County to support student mental health services. While each of the districts shares a grant writer, DeWolfe said each school submitted its own grant because each has different needs.

“Everybody did their own grant submissions that then was particular to what they needed,” DeWolfe said. “We’re different communities in different places.”


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