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JEFFERSON — Ashe County Schools has been selected to receive $842,586 in funding for mental health training and services through a U.S. Department of Education grant, according to ACS Superintendent Phyllis Yates.

Yates announced that ACS would be receiving the federal grant during the Ashe County Board of Education’s regular meeting Monday, Oct. 7. The grant, which totals $2.5 million, is to be divided between Appalachian State University and RTI International — a nonprofit research group based in the North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park — during a five-year period.

The grant will provide 100-percent funding for Appalachian State University’s Assessment, Support and Counseling Center — a partnership between the university and ACS in supporting mental health needs for rural students — while also funding 33 percent of ACS Student Services Director Jamie Little’s salary, who will be overseeing the program, and 80 percent of the salary for the school system’s social worker.

“It was a godsend that we got this approved,” Yates said, adding that ACS had to compete on the national level with other school districts for the grant.

Working in conjunction with App State and RTI, ACS will oversee the program as a whole and work to place clinical counseling and psychology interns in the areas of highest need in Ashe County’s individual schools, according to a release from ACS.

Appalachian State University’s psychology department will also provide support to Ashe County Schools by training and sending their clinical students to the county for internship hours, adding another layer of support to the services that students are already receiving from school-based employees, the release said.

On RTI International’s end, the organization will collect data from the program and will assist both ACS and App State with needed professional development training based on their data, providing a guided direction for how services are implemented at the school level, according to the release.

“This is a great opportunity for Ashe County Schools to pull in additional resources to better support our students in the area of mental health services,” Yates said in the release. Yates also expressed her gratitude for Little, who wrote the grant and will serve as the grant project manager.

“We are going to do great things for our students with this opportunity,” Little said. “We are pleased that our teachers will have access to training and resources that will help us to better meet the mental health needs of our students.”

According to a release from Appalachian State, the grant will help to deepen pre-professional preparation of ASU doctoral students in clinical psychology in hopes of deploying them strategically into high need schools after graduation. Pre-professional preparation will also include advanced, targeted coursework and practicum training in the provision and study of rural school mental health services.

At the end of the five-year period, Yates said during the board’s regular meeting that ACS will hopefully apply for the grant again.

“We’re very fortunate,” Yates said.

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