New $1B Grant Program Targets Student Safety and Wellness

Many students were already struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges before the pandemic. The isolation and hardships from COVID have turned this…

Many students were already struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges before the pandemic. The isolation and hardships from COVID have turned this problem into a full-blown crisis, and K-12 leaders are looking for resources that can help. In addition to federal pandemic relief aid, a new federal grant program called “Stronger Connections” offers some assistance.

Established with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) of 2022, the Stronger Connections Grant Program provides an additional $1 billion in funding through Title IV, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). States will award this money to high-need school systems through competitive grants meant to establish safer and healthier learning environments, such as by preventing and responding to bullying, violence, hatred, and other acts that can affect students’ physical and mental health.

The grants provide further assistance to help school districts meet the escalating mental health needs of students. More than 75 percent of K-12 leaders surveyed in spring 2022 said their teachers and staff have voiced concerns about student anxiety, depression, and trauma, the Washington Post reports. In 2021, the CDC found that 45 percent of high school students were so persistently sad or hopeless that they were unable to engage in regular activities. Nearly one in five seriously considered suicide, and 9 percent tried to take their lives in the past year.

Among the projects and activities supported by Stronger Connections grants are systems designed to monitor student well-being and recognize when students might pose a danger to themselves or others.

A draft document from the U.S. Department of Education, intended to answer K-12 leaders’ questions about the program, states: “The Department encourages grantees to use funds to develop early detection, screening, or warning systems to identify students who may be at risk, a danger to themselves or others, or in need of additional supports.”

School districts might use the grant funds to purchase a system such as Impero Wellbeing, which uses powerful keyword detection tools to capture, record, and identify early warning signs of trouble among students’ digital behavior. The software alerts designated K-12 leaders in real time so they can intervene as needed before it’s too late.

For instance, the software can detect when students might be discussing or searching the internet for information about suicide, self-harm, bullying, anxiety, depression, violence, hate speech, or other signs of harmful behavior. Wellbeing and the Impero Cloud Platform provide the only integrated view of students’ online and offline behavior, enabling a comprehensive, at-a-glance view of any student in an online system that can easily be shared with appropriate staff members for a timely response that can protect students from causing harm to themselves or others.

You can find more information about Impero Wellbeing here and about the $1 billion Stronger Connections grant program here.

About the author: The former editor of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce has more than 20 years of experience writing about education and technology. 

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