Phoenix-Talent Schools get $2.6 million for mental health providers: Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

The Phoenix-Talent School District is one of four school districts in the state that can hire multiple mental health providers as part of a $20 million package of competitive grants secured by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.

The Senators announced in a press release Friday that Phoenix-Talent Schools will receive $2,649,732. The other districts receiving funds are Douglas Education Services District ($6.8 million), Multnomah County School District 1J ($5.5 million), and Corbett School District 39 ($4.9 million).

“Mental health care is essential health care, especially for school-age children, which is why I introduced the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Act to put more providers in schools,” Merkley said in a prepared statement. “I am grateful that, in the spirit of that legislation, Douglas, Jackson and Multnomah counties are receiving this critical federal investment to support students. Our children’s success in the classroom goes beyond test scores.”

Phoenix-Talent School District Superintendent Brent Barry issued a prepared statement saying the need for student mental health support is “enormous” given the 2020 Almeda fire and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are very excited to get to work and eternally grateful for this opportunity to help our children and families,” Barry said.

In an interview Friday, Kelly Soter, equity and community service director for the Phoenix-Talent School District, shed more light on how the $2.6 million will be used over five years, the period of time set by Congress.

“It’s really hard to get things done in a shorter time frame like a three-year grant,” Soter said.

Because Phoenix-Talent doesn’t normally get federal grants this large, Soter noted, part of the funds would be used for an office support specialist who would help manage the grant.

Immediately, the district is working towards achieving part of the grant goals.

This includes the upgrade of Phoenix High School to provide a La Clinica health services center, adding to the work the nonprofit already does to provide health care to youth in the Rogue Valley.

An opening for a fourth community care specialist has been advertised, Soter said. The additional position would join three others: Rosario Medina at Talent Elementary, Katie McCormick at Orchard Hill Elementary, and Laura Millette at Phoenix Elementary.

The fourth specialist could be someone trained through a new “career path” program in collaboration with La Clinica.

“Finding mental health providers is a challenge anywhere, particularly in our region,” Soter said. “They won’t materialize out of thin air just because we have more money to hire new people. We have to have a mechanism (for that).”

The pathway programs are expected to add up to 10 individuals qualified to serve as mental health associates.

Grant funds will also be used to pilot a new “short screen” led by Portland State University to identify youth who are struggling during the current school year. This will be introduced as a pilot program, but the PSU will also help the district place interns in its schools.

Next school year, a school counselor will be added to Talent Middle School, which currently does not have a counselor, Soter said.

Also, according to Soter, the number of district-level therapists will increase from four to 11 over the next five years.

Soter outlined why a federal grant like the one Oregon senators got is important to Phoenix-Talent. “We have young people in every school who are struggling, and they’re struggling quietly or loudly,” she said.

Soter believes a small district like Phoenix-Talent will soon be able to see the benefits of the grant.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.

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