How much of our school resources should be devoted to student mental health?
That’s such a hard question to answer.
Until someone you love is in crisis.
And then the answer is very simple.
All of it. Everything. Anything. Please.
The East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation has been supporting student mental health since 1985, when we funded a drug and alcohol awareness grant. In the 38 years since then, we’ve funded many more.
We ramped up those efforts as a mental health crisis gripped our students in the past few years. In 2022, the largest single gift ever given to the Foundation–one million dollars–established the Student Mental Health and Wellness Fund that the Foundation will administer for the district. In December 2022, two more donors pledged $50,000 each in matching gifts to encourage community support for the fund. Numerous donors have already contributed to take advantage of those matching gifts.
Plans call for the Mental Health and Wellness Fund to grow to a multi-million dollar endowed fund. Once that goal is reached, investment income from the endowment will fund the district’s Wellness Coordinator position–as well as ongoing training for teachers and staff and additional resources for students–in perpetuity, without ever reducing the principal.
“I’m grateful to all our supporters for recognizing that our students are our greatest resource,” says Foundation Executive Director Amy Stuursma. “It’s up to us to provide students with tools and training to navigate their ever-changing, unpredictable world. This is a sustainable solution that will allow for greater student self-awareness, provide strategies for navigating stress and anxiety, and help students form healthy, strong relationships.”
Student mental health is a nationwide problem. More than 75 percent of schools surveyed last year said teachers have reported concerns about student depression, anxiety and trauma. A federal study showed 45 percent of high school students nationwide said they were so persistently sad or hopeless they were unable to engage in regular activities. Almost one in five said they had seriously considered suicide.
In June 2022, the Foundation, at the request of East Grand Rapids Public Schools, made a $750,000 multi-year commitment to support student mental health at all schools in the district. Since then, EGRPS has hired a wellness coordinator and an additional social worker. Training and additional programming is already happening, giving kids and teachers tools and resources to recognize a problem before it becomes a crisis.
Lauren Ahlers, who had been working as a counselor at East Grand Rapids Middle School, is the district’s Wellness Coordinator. “This role will provide additional resources to help students cope with difficulties that arise throughout their academic careers, and into their young adult lives,” Ahlers says.
“The mission of East Grand Rapids Public Schools has been and continues to be supporting the whole child. Moving forward, we want to continue bolstering our social emotional learning curriculum, and providing tools for students to use to manage anxiety, depression, and stress. Providing psychoeducational knowledge, helping students develop healthy relationships and coping skills will empower students to manage mental health challenges when and if they arise.”
Ahlers says those efforts are already underway. “With this generous gift, we have already begun providing professional development opportunities for staff and will continue this work moving forward. The wellness coordinator position will allow us to break down barriers to accessing mental health supports, and increase involvement within our community.”
“We are grateful for the support of our community and the Schools Foundation,” Ahlers says.
Thank you, Foundation donors, for making this possible! You can help support our mission of investing in educational enhancements for all our students on our Donate page.