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Large PDE grant to be spent on mental and behavioral health resources

When the West Mifflin School District learned last month that it received nearly a million dollars through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Stronger Connections Grant, there was little question as to what they would be allocating the funds towards: its students’ mental health.

“A lot of kids don’t come to school because of their mental health. It’s hard for them to come here when they’re dealing with those issues,” said Noelle Haney, the district’s Director of Pupil Services. 

“So if we can assist them with that, and give them the resources to overcome those mental health issues, they’ll be safer here at school. We want them to feel safe here at school. This should be their safe space.”

In March 2024, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced the aforementioned grant of over $39 million, allocated to 36 educational institutions across the state. According to PDE, the grant is meant to “establish safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments in public elementary and secondary schools.” Haney and the district’s administration applied for the grant, and subsequently received $916,680, a number calculated based on the amount of economically disadvantaged students in the district. As per the grant requirements, Walnut Grove Christian School ($30,779), Cornerstone Christian Preparatory Academy ($45,206), and Pittsburgh Christian Academy ($55,466) while also receive funds from that allocated $916,680.

Those funds will be spent on a wide-ranging initiative called the Titan Assistance Patrol, or TAP for short. Through hiring in-house employees — plus others from outside agencies — the district will be constructing a team of homeschool visitors, attendance officers, school counselors, and school police, while also contracting services for mental health, social work, behavioral specialists, intervention specialists and a parent advocate. The district is hopeful to get the team up and running in the next school year.

“We’re committed to creating a supportive and nurturing environment where students can thrive academically and emotionally,” said Haney.

Through TAP, the district primarily hopes to address mental health and attendance issues, all while supporting its students’ emotional and psychological well-being. 

“If you attend to their physical and mental health, it will allow their academics to increase,” said Haney.

“We want to promote any mental health awareness that we can to the community, so that they can use the resources that we have available to them.”

Additionally, the district plans to purchase vehicles for some of the TAP team, which will be used for home visits, but also to transport families to meetings and services that they might not be able to typically attend, like Student Assistance Program meetings, school-based therapy intake meetings, and attendance meetings.

“We know for some families, they don’t have the transportation to stay connected,” said Haney. “We want to be able to bring the community members into our household here. It’s so we can be one.”