Kids at 4 schools to get counseling through $1M grant


Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 4:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 4:03 p.m.

A federal grant for almost $1 million will go toward helping Alachua County students who need it the most.

Alachua County was the last school district to receive funding from the Department of Education via the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Grant. It’s also the only school district in Florida to have a project funded. About 500 school districts applied for funding.

Under Project Fortify, the district soon will place school social workers in Idylwild, Lake Forest, Metcalfe and Rawlings elementary schools, which have a significant proportion of high-needs students.

The grant will also fund a school psychologist who will provide services to students and training for teachers at all four schools, plus training and support for teachers during the three-year funding period.

Alachua County Schools will receive $317,305 in the first year and $330,740 in the second and third years, for a total of $978,785 over the life of the project.

“We’re real excited about it,” Everett Caudle, director of grants procurement and project development for Alachua County Schools, said Wednesday. “It’s a major accomplishment for us to get something that competitive.”

Caudle said the district has been looking to bulk up the guidance counselors’ department, particularly in lower socioeconomic schools. Today, much of the counselors’ time is monopolized by testing and managing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and special education programs.

“The part of them that gets to deal with the population of kids that have really high needs, that part of their day gets sort of shoved to the back burner, unfortunately,” Caudle said.

So when the opportunity to fund extra support opened up about a year ago, the district jumped on it.

Thirty-five grant winners were announced in August, but Caudle said some leftover funding made it possible for the DOE to fund a 36th grant -- Alachua County’s.

The district was notified about a day ahead of the government shutdown last month, then spent two weeks waiting for the government to reopen so coordinators could send more information.

Caudle will head to Washington, D.C. next week for a mandatory meeting for grant recipients. Once the funds become available, the school district can work with the elementary schools to start the process of hiring four school social workers.

The social workers will, among other things, coordinate with local agencies to get medical and mental health services to students who need them and help families deal with issues such as poor nutrition and unstable housing.

The goal for the three-year project is to increase academic, social and emotional success for students at those four schools.

Daniel Ferguson, principal of Idylwild Elementary, one of the schools that will be helped by the grant, said about 530 of the 680 students at his school are on free or reduced-price lunch.

“That comes with a lot of needs that sometimes aren’t met,” he said.

He hopes the project will help mitigate the effects of poverty on the learning environment and make sure the needs of all of this students are being met.

“I think this is going to help promote academic success,” Ferguson said. “I, for one, feel like we are very fortunate to have these additional services.”

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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