An anonymous donor has given $1.5 million to the Community Foundation of North Central Florida to help provide mental health counseling and behavioral health services to elementary school students in need.
The donation will be provided to Alachua County Schools to benefit four schools identified as most in need of these services including: Rawlings, Idylwild, Lake Forest and Metcalfe elementary schools. These high-need schools will be receiving money in the form of a grant over a three-year period.
A donor established the fund in 2015 after realizing the need for mental health services in the public school system, Barzella Papa the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of North Central Florida said.
Each school will have a social worker and a mental health worker, Papa said.
The hiring process will begin this summer and these schools are expected to have counselors employed and on site when the 2016-2017 school year begins.
Alachua County Public Schools spokeswoman, Jackie Johnson, said many of their students struggle with mental health issues.
“We will determine which students have needs that are not currently being met,” Johnson said. “And we’re going to find probably that there are going to be a lot of students because we do see mental health issues among a lot of our students and a lot of those issues are going untreated.”
By hiring additional counselors, school officials hope they can provide the services students need.
“This is going to be really meaningful for the schools,” said Johnson. “It’s going to make a huge difference and eliminate that barrier of a lot of families not being able to get to a mental health counselor.”
Papa said there is the potential for the grant to be extended for a fourth and/or fifth year, which would mean an additional $1 million for the program, depending on the success of the program.
The grant will take effect this fall.