BELEN — As classes get underway in the Belen Consolidated Schools this fall, students will have a new way to access resources ranging from food and clothing to mental health services.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education announced five-year grant awards to organizations in more than 30 states to increase access to school-based mental health services, and to strengthen the pipeline of mental health professionals in high-needs districts.
Deborah Baca, health services coordinator for BCS, recently reported to the Belen Board of Education the district will be participating in two online programs to better connect students with resources, thanks to the federal grant funding.
The Central Region Educational Cooperative, which BCS is a part of, applied for the grant and was awarded $398,444. Baca said the district is rolling out two programs — HELPme (a smart phone app) and online, e-therapy services.
The HELPme app is part of the STOPit Solutions suite of apps, and will link students to a database of resources in Valencia County, ranging from food, shelter and clothing, as well as provide a 24/7 connection to a text-based crisis support line.
“It will also have two-way communication with the schools, so students can reach out directly,” Baca said. “If someone reaches out on the crisis line, they will get a person, and they will let us know someone is in crisis.”
The electronic therapy can be accessed on a personal computer, she said, and will be a screening and assessment of needs based on referrals from school site staff.
“A lot of times, students are in crisis and making threats but they aren’t sure what it is they’re threatening. This is short-term therapy, which will lead to a plan for the school or parents for long-term care. It creates an ongoing plan,” Baca told the board. “The co-op is in the process of hiring social workers who will be available through the school sites.”
The other component to the federal grant is to increase the number of providers available, so the co-op will be seeking retired providers to possibly come back to the field, Baca said, as well as offering incentives to encourage people to enter become mental health providers.
The information about the two programs would be pushed out to parents as classes begin, as well as available at each school site and on the school’s website.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.