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CFS Professor Heather George Receives Grant from U.S. Department of Education to Improve Mental Health Services in Middle Schools

Congratulations to CFS Professor Heather George, Ph.D. on receiving a 5-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to improve mental health services in middle schools implementing Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS). The grant, Florida Connect: Interconnecting School Mental Health and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports to Improve Middle School Students' Academic, Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Outcomes, will focus on youth with and at-risk for disabilities, and/or minoritized backgrounds. Funded under the ED Office of Special Education Programs (CFDA 84.326M, “Absolute Priority 2: Model Demonstration Projects to Enhance Social, Emotional, and Mental Health Services and Supports for Middle or High School Youth with and at Risk for Disabilities”), the grant  will be co-led by PI: Heather George, PhD who will provide oversight for fiscal and program management and Co-PI: Joni Splett, PhD from the University of Florida for implementation and data collection with additional expertise from the FLPBIS: MTSS Project in collaboration with Marion County Public Schools. Additional CFS staff involved will be Laura Kern, JD, PhD, Karen Elfner, MA and Dama Abshier, PhD.

Florida Connect will examine how aspects of the model demonstrations can (1) be delivered remotely to increase access to mental health services and supports, (2) focus on integrating prevention, universal screening and targeted interventions in middle school settings; and (3) increase the capacity of schools to connect students with their community mental health providers and specialized mental health professionals.

“An interesting piece of this project was the overwhelming letters of support we received from all of the partners,” said Dr. George. The list includes: Florida Center for Inclusive Communities at USF, Institute for School Reform at USF, Marion County Public Schools (where the model demonstrations will occur), Liberty Middle School (one of the participating schools), Marion County Children's Alliance, Lutheran Services Florida Health Systems (local community mental health agency who will be providing intensive mental health support to identified kids), Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Public Policy Institute of Marion County, Southeastern School Behavioral Health Community, McDowell Institute, Florida Department of Education Bureau of Exceptional Student Education (BESE), Florida’s State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG), Florida Psychological Association (FPA), and the Adolescents and Children Together for Health (ACT for Health).

“School-based mental health such as the Interconnected Systems Framework offers a unique opportunity to reduce unmet mental health needs among marginalized youth. Knowledge will also be gained in how to best integrate educational and mental health systems,” said Dr. George.