School districts jointly win $5 million grant to launch intensive effort to prevent violence, engage communities and help students thrive

School districts jointly win $5 million grant to launch intensive effort to prevent violence, engage communities and help students thrive
Covington Independent Public Schools and the Erlanger-Elsmere Independent School District have been jointly awarded $4.95 million to create and support an intensive and broad-range effort to identify, assess, and serve students exposed to, or predisposed to, pervasive violence and to help students t (Source: Storyblocks)

Covington Independent Public Schools and the Erlanger-Elsmere Independent School District have been jointly awarded $4.95 million to create and support an intensive and broad-range effort to identify, assess, and serve students exposed to, or predisposed to, pervasive violence and to help students thrive.

The two school districts, with support from community partners, collaborated to win the grant and will share in the funding over the next five years through the U.S. Department of Education’s Project Prevent program, designed to address the needs of students affected by violence and to prevent violence in the community.

“This grant will provide great benefits for our students. I am so proud of the work of Covington Independent Public Schools and Erlanger-Elsmere Schools,” said Mr. Alvin Garrison, superintendent of Covington Independent Public Schools. “The collaborative effort of the districts made this opportunity possible.”

While both districts have worked diligently in recent years to implement a variety of measures to support students who may have been subjected to or susceptible to violence, the grant funding will allow for the streamlined efforts and augmented resources needed to tackle these issues head on.

“Through Northern Kentucky Violence Prevention Pyramid Project, two school districts, working together, will change their students’ and our communities’ approaches to violence,” said Ms. Amy Razor, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services. “By supporting youth mental health, providing trauma informed care, and initiating a multitude of helpful programs in both the communities and schools, these districts will impact the ways children learn, work, and live.”

Covington and Erlanger-Elsmere school districts will collaborate to implement the grant as the Northern Kentucky Violence Prevention Pyramid Project, the work of which encompasses a dynamic, multi-tiered system that includes academic, behavioral, physiological, safety, social-emotional, and mental health supports. The majority of students in each school district – those at the “base” of the pyramid – will receive universal support, with intensifying intervention for those students more at risk, or at the pyramid’s top.

The grant allows for the creation of an overarching council and district-level multidisciplinary teams to implement the pyramid – working toward first identifying concerns that may lead to violence and then tailoring the ways each district addresses it through nationally-recognized best practices. The council and teams will include teachers, administrators, school resource officers, a restorative justice coordinator, school psychologist and school counselor/board certified behavior analyst, and a wide variety of community partners.

“Through this grant we will be focusing on the needs of the whole student through academic learning, social-emotional learning and our collective impact on addressing mental health and well-being along with physical

health and well-being,” said Dr. Kathy Burkhardt, superintendent of Erlanger-Elsmere Schools. “It will allow us to continue to increase our school district's capacity to provide learning environments that are positive and enriching for all students as we model and teach our students about conflict resolution and restorative justice practices. We look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with our students, families and communities to focus on strategies to positively engage and enrich student learning in ways that promote empowerment and success.”

On the side of violence prevention, each district will implement the Virginia Threat Assessment Model, an approach that emphasizes early attention to problems such as bullying, teasing, and other forms of student conflict before they escalate into violent behavior. Districts will also work to identify students who are at risk for externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors through universal student screenings.

To serve students who have been exposed to violence or who may be prone to violence themselves, both districts will deepen their commitment to trauma-informed care, recognizing the role exposure to trauma can play and shifting from a “what’s wrong with you” to a “what’s happened to you” approach. A practical application will include the institution of “Handle with Care,” a program of coordination between local law enforcement and school-level personnel to better support students affected by police activity and trauma-related events such as domestic violence situations, drug raids, overdoses, and more. While the school will simply receive a “Handle with Care” alert from local police along with a child’s name, it enables teachers and administrators to provide an increased level of support to students who may be experiencing inordinate difficulties.

Another significant component of the grant is a focus on restorative justice, an increasingly popular alternative to traditional approaches to school discipline. Students will learn about making amends through restorative justice practices. Both school districts will receive training on a nationally recognized whole school restorative justice model.

“We are thrilled to be able to collaborate with Erlanger-Elsmere Schools on this important work,” said Janice Wilkerson, Ph.D., assistant superintendent of Covington Independent Public Schools. “The Northern Kentucky Violence Prevention Pyramid Project will provide resources to enhance our student behavior support processes including training for school staff members on trauma informed practices and advanced interventions for students experiencing significant emotional or behavioral challenges. We are especially excited to work with the Kentucky Center for Restorative Justice and Community Restorative Justice - Covington to bring formal restorative justice practices into our schools and the local communities.” The grant is made possible through the collaboration of the Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services (NKCES). Since September 2010, the NKCES Grants Consortium has brought more than $50 million in federal, state, local, foundation and corporate funding into the Northern Kentucky economy in support of students in participating school districts. In the Grants Consortium, representatives of 13 school districts meet monthly to network, to share information about current grant-funded projects, to learn about new opportunities and to plan collaborative grant proposals. The Consortium also expands each school district’s capacity to fund programming to meet its own needs by providing workshops or training events for school administrators, teachers or other staff members.

“I am always impressed by the dedication of our public schools to serving the needs of every child, no matter the circumstances,” said Ms. Vicki Dansberry, director of the Grants Consortium. “This project will go a long way to building a successful future for many students who face the most serious challenges, building a supportive culture in the schools that will help children and youth orient themselves toward success.”

(Information provided in a press release by Covington Independent Public Schools and Erlanger Elsmere Schools)