DeKalb schools gets $2.9 million grant for student mental health

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The DeKalb County School District won a five-year federal grant to provide mental health services to students, the district recently announced.

The district will receive $2.9 million to recruit, train and retain school psychologists.

“We’ve seen the need increase as we’ve come back from the pandemic. Students have experienced losses, trauma, relocation, anxiety, depression — and those are just a few things that I can talk off the top of my head about,” interim Superintendent Vasanne Tinsley said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday. “We have to find a way to support those things that pop up with students when they’re in our care for eight hours a day.”

The new grant will extend to 2028.

Tinsley, a former school counselor, has prioritized increasing mental health services during her tenure. This year’s budget allocated $4 million for the addition of school counselors and psychologists. A portion of the coming year’s budget will be devoted to continuing that work, Tinsley said, and the district is still seeking community partners and additional funding.

There’s only one school psychologist for every 6,390 K-12 Georgia students, far fewer than the one for every 500 recommended, according to a report last year by a group of mental health agencies. DeKalb, the state’s third-largest district, currently has about one psychologist for every 1,890 students.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

School districts have used federal pandemic aid to add workers in these fields to meet students’ rising needs after the coronavirus pandemic. But those non-renewable funds must be used by September 2024.

DeKalb will use the new grant funds to primarily recruit, train and retain school psychologists from diverse backgrounds or those who live in communities within DeKalb. The district will also recruit and train 23 diverse student psychologists to provide mental health services to a school-based population with demonstrated high need.

It’s difficult for schools to hire psychologists and other professionals who specialize in clinical work, Tinsley said, because there are a limited number of people in the field and schools must compete with hospitals and other agencies that provide social services.

“The more people we can have on board that can assist us with our student, staff and family and community needs, the better,” Tinsley said. “I really want the public to understand how committed we are to this.”