TRAVERSE CITY – Funding 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 American Rescue Plan funds from the federal government. At its final meeting in 2022, the County Commission decided to allocate $10 million of those funds to 27 different community-wide proposals, including two proposals that would 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 collaboration with Northwest Michigan Health Services to open a child and adolescent health center at Traverse City West Middle School .
TCAPS’ peer-to-peer programming is based on the Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness Program developed by the University of Michigan Depression Center. This program is built on the premise that teens are more likely than adults to talk and listen to other teens when it comes to their struggles with mental health.
People from UM’s Depression Center came to Traverse City in early September and conducted trainings for staff and students at Traverse City West Senior High School and Traverse City Central High School. These trainings are meant to educate students about mental health conditions and concerns so they can identify, reach out and encourage their peers to seek help, such as depression or anxiety.
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. Ginger Smith, communications director for TCAPS, said in an email that the total cost of the program is estimated at $67,000.
Peer-to-peer programming is already in full swing, but the students involved asked for a better space where, under the supervision of staff, students could gather or sit alone to relax and take part in the school day. I can feel more comfortable if they feel overwhelmed.
TCAPS requested $22,000 in ARPA funding to make minor repairs to each school to build and equip these rooms. They were awarded $10,000 from the county, but also received $2,000 for equipment and supplies for the program through a Traverse City Rotary Good Works grant.
This first year, the peer-to-peer program is in a pilot phase, and TCAPS will decide whether to expand it beyond the high school level, Smith said in an interview.
“We are doing everything we can to remove the stigma associated with mental health and behavioral health problems,” Smith said. “It’s just another step … to open up the conversation and make it a norm, make it where you can say, ‘Hey, I’m not okay with my feelings, and here’s why.'”
This work is in line with a goal listed in TCAPS’ strategic plan to “develop and implement structures and systems of support to enhance mental and emotional health and social well-being,” she said. He added that it also aligns with TCAPS’ health and wellness initiative, which was implemented in 2021 after TCAPS received the Rotary Charity Systems Change Accelerator grant.
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 build a child and adolescent health clinic at Traverse City West Middle School. This funding from MDHHS is continuing to pay salaries, but more funding was needed to renovate the available space at WMS.
TCAPS and NMHSI worked together to file a request for $150,000 in ARPA funding from the county, which was awarded in full.
TCAPS has not yet begun the bidding process for repairs to the middle school needed to build the health center, but plans to open the center in the fall of 2023.
The clinic will have a nurse practitioner, a medical assistant and a behavioral health therapist, and it will be open three days a week, said Heidi Britton, NMHSI CEO.
WMS was chosen as the location for the clinic because it has the most physical space in the district and the most concentrated student body, but it will be open to all TCAPS students, Britton said.
The clinic will have a board with students who will have a role in overseeing the clinic’s services and policies.
This model for the clinic, which MDHHS has been providing schools and health services funding for years to develop, is “fantastic,” Britton said. Britton said it removes barriers people face when trying to seek care, and it reduces the amount of class time that children miss.
He said this would allow children to be able to understand the world of healthcare and to be able to talk about their medical needs and advocate for their care at an early age.
“When we met the team at TCAPS, everyone was very excited about it,” Britton said. “Everyone knows it’s such a positive thing to have in a school district.”