ARPA dollars to expand TCAPS mental health services, including school-based clinic | Local news

TRAVERSE CITY: Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act allocated by Grand Traverse County will help Northern Michigan’s largest school district expand its mental health offerings and make medical services more accessible to students.

In 2021, the Grand Traverse County Commission received $18.2 million in funds from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan. At its last meeting in 2022, the county commission decided to allocate $10 million of those funds to 27 different community proposals, including two that will affect TCAPS students, staff and parents.

Traverse City Area Public Schools was guaranteed $10,000 in ARPA funding for its high school Peer-to-Peer program and $150,000, in conjunction with Northwest Michigan Health Services, to open a children’s health center and teens at Traverse City West Middle School.

TCAPS Peer Programming is based on the Peer Depression Awareness Program developed by the University of Michigan Depression Center. The show is built on the premise that teens are more likely to talk and listen to other teens than adults when it comes to their mental health issues.

Individuals from the UM Depression Center arrived in Traverse City in early September and conducted trainings for staff and students at Traverse City West High School and Traverse City Central High School. These trainings are intended to educate students about mental health conditions and concerns so they can identify conditions such as depression or anxiety in their peers, communicate with them, and encourage them to seek help.

TCAPS received a $45,000 grant from Rotary Charities of Traverse City to help cover the cost of implementing the Peer-to-Peer program at WSHS and CHS. The total cost of the program is estimated at $67,000, TCAPS Director of Communications Ginger Smith said in an email.

Peer programming is already in full swing, but the students involved asked for a better space where, under staff supervision, students can gather together or sit alone to relax and feel more comfortable during the school day if they feel overwhelmed.

TCAPS requested $22,000 in ARPA funds to perform minor renovations at each school to build and furnish these classrooms. They received a $10,000 reward from the county, but also received $2,000 for equipment and supplies for the program through the Traverse City Rotary Good Works grant.

This first year, the Peer-to-Peer program is in a pilot phase and TCAPS will decide whether or not to expand beyond the high school level, Smith said in an interview.

“We are doing everything we can to remove the stigmas associated with mental health and behavioral health issues,” Smith said. “This is just another step…to open up the conversation and make it a norm, to get you to say, ‘Hey, I’m not okay with my feelings, and here’s why.’”

This work aligns with a goal listed in the TCAPS strategic plan to “Develop and implement support structures and systems to increase mental and emotional health and social well-being,” he said. It also aligns with TCAPS’ health and wellness initiative, which was implemented after TCAPS was awarded the Rotary Charities Systems Change Accelerator Grant in 2021, she said.

TCAPS will also benefit from a $150,000 ARPA grant to Northwest Michigan Health Services.

In the fall, NMHSI received a $170,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to create a child and adolescent health and clinic at Traverse City West High School. This MDHHS funding is ongoing to pay salaries, but more funding was needed to renovate available space at WMS.

TCAPS and NMHSI worked together to submit a request for $150,000 in ARPA funds from the county, which was fully awarded.

TCAPS has not yet started the bidding process for the high school renovations needed to build the health center, but the plan is for the center to open in the fall of 2023.

The clinic will be staffed by a nurse practitioner, a physician assistant and a behavioral health therapist, and will be open three days a week, said Heidi Britton, executive director of NMHSI.

WMS was chosen as the site for the clinic because it has the largest physical space and the most concentrated student body in the district, but it will be open to all TCAPS students, Britton said.

The clinic will have a board of students who will have a role in overseeing the clinic’s services and policies.

This clinic model, which MDHHS has been funding schools and health services to develop for years, is “brilliant,” Britton said. It removes the barriers people face when trying to access care and reduces the amount of class time kids would miss, Britton said.

It will also allow children to begin to understand the world of health care and learn to talk about their medical needs and advocate for their own care at an early age, he said.

“When we met the team there at TCAPS, everyone was very excited,” Britton said. “Everyone knows what a positive thing it is to put it in a school district.”

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