NEW RICHMOND -- Earlier this year, the New Richmond School District received a BARR or Building Assets, Reducing Ricks grant to help students and staff.

This summer, the district was also received a School-Based Mental Health Services Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Instruction, which will go further the BARR program as well as “increase the capacity of both the District and families to support the social/emotional behavior, and academic growth of our students,” according to District Administrator Patrick Olson.

“Funds from this grant will help improve our universal systems of support for student's social/emotional development within the high school, starting with grade nine, by implementing the BARR program, increase parent engagement with direct support, and provide training for parents on mental health topics,” Olson said.

Director of Students Services Kathy Rogers and high school psychologist/RTI coordinator Dr. Aleksis Kincaid worked together to write the grant proposal .

“The biggest piece of the mental health grant is the coordination of the BARR program at the high school. We targeted the high school and the BARR program, that is with the hopes of helping staff build better connections with students. And then, the better connections with students helps with mental health issues and academic achievement. It is using some different programming and lessons to build those relationships. And they are targeting the ninth grade,” Rogers said.

The program will start with the freshmen this fall, she said. with the hopes of using some of the same philosophies to expand it at high school and then into the middle school.

“Other parts of this grant are to have some family engagement and skill building. That would be become part of the program where families would come into the school over six weeks and we would do skill building activities as well as just increasing that family engagement with the school,” Rogers said.

In addition, the grant will allow for the development of a mental health advisory committee, which would comprise community members, school staff and parents. Rogers envisions the committee meeting four times a year to discuss mental health issues with students and collaborate on how to help support and put other resources in place for students.

“DPI has offered this grant two years in a row now. It is a school-based mental health services grant. Primarily, the goal of the grant is for schools to get community based mental health services within the school. We already do that and we have for years,” Rogers said. “So I didn’t need to write a grant for that, so I had to look at something different and that is when we decided to use the BARR program as part of our grant proposal. We just got lucky and got funded.”

The DPI had a large number of requests for the grant money, given that it was a statewide, competitive grant. According to Rogers, the Hudson and Prescott districts have received the grant in the past. The New Richmond district will have the funding from the grant for the next two years.

“We were going to move forward with the BARR program without the grant. So what the grant does it provides a half-time coordinator for not only the BARR program, but also for coordination of mental health services district wide,” Rogers said, adding, "We’ve had some traumatic events go on in our district and teachers need help too. So it is really widening who we are able to impact and how many services we are able to get.”

An all-staff training session took place in mid-August, Rogers said. Now freshman teachers will start meeting regularly to meet objectives of the BARR program and start implementing at the beginning of the school year.

“Incoming freshman will have 26 lessons that are designed to build positive student/teacher relationships and positive peer relationships. The lessons target dealing with depression and anxiety and other topics that are pertinent to adolescents and what it going on,” Rogers said.

According to Rogers, in addition to coordinating the program, the employee in charge of BARR will train other grade levels.

“I think the goal for us after the two years with the grant would be to have the philosophies of the BARR program well established in the district so it can continue even if it doesn’t have a coordinator. And then to get the infrastructure built so we can build up good collaborations with the community and organize our process of how we get mental health services for our students,” Rogers said. “We would hope to have a more structured approach for helping students. We do a ton of things, but this is just going to streamline, coordinate and hopefully bring in some more community partners because it takes a lot of us to help with some of the needs the kids are facing.”

For more information, visit barrcenter.org.