Support still pouring into Newtown

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Photo by William Freedberg.

In order to support those suffering from the 2012 Newtown tragedy, on Jan. 6, the Newtown Public School District received a second grant from the Department of Education’s Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV).

The $1.9 million grant funds grief support for students, faculty, staff and family within the school district. This grant comes on the heels of a $1.3 million grant awarded in May of 2013 from the same organization, which also funded school-based mental health services immediately after the shootings. Newtown will also apply for a third Project SERV grant after the funds from this grant are depleted, said David Jacob, the Recovery Project Director in Newtown.

“The Newtown community has demonstrated incredible fortitude and profound resiliency in the face of unimaginable tragedy,” said State Department of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor in a statement. “This grant will provide critical assistance to the Newtown Public Schools to help the district continue to heal and advance.”

The grant funds will be used for all schools in the district, not just Sandy Hook Elementary, Jacob said. Seven public schools in Newtown and two private schools are recipients of the money, he added. Specifically, the money will hire additional social workers, counselors and psychologists. Some grant money will also fund mental health agencies that provide services to students, parents and staff.

Many of the agencies receiving funds are not from within Newtown. The city has subcontracted with Wellmore from Waterbury and the Clifford Beers Clinic, an agency from New Haven, Jacob said. Newtown is also utilizing UCLA’s National Child Traumatic Stress Network for advice and consultation to ensure that any programs that the district adopt use the latest trauma techniques for staff and students.

It is uncommon to give Project SERV awards for two consecutive years, Jo Ann Webb, U.S. Department of Education spokesperson said in an email to the News. She noted that school districts in New Jersey affected by Hurricane Sandy were awarded grants two years in a row.

There has not been much debate within the district over how the grant should be spent, according to Jacob. Everyone in the community is working towards improving the learning environment for the students and staff, Jacob added.

LeReine Frampton, Newtown’s democratic registrar of voters agreed with Jacob that the community remains satisfied with how the district is spending its grant money, though she added that she would like to see the government provide more help for those who suffer from mental illness.

“If we can do something that will help [solve] the problem that caused this loss, I think that’s a bigger step to recovery than money,” Frampton said.

Newtown has also started using evidence-based programming in its schools and is implementing a school curriculum to facilitate communication and help its students recover.

Newtown’s Project Recovery, which oversees the services and programs that will be implemented throughout the district, has already started planning ahead for next year. Jacob anticipates that Newtown will apply for more funding to continue the services that the district is currently providing after the second grant ends this August. However, the amount of money the district will request is not clear.

“We’re in the process of need assessment right now. We’re trying to get an idea of what services might look like next year,” Jacob said.

Since 2001, Project SERV has given over $34 million through 113 grants to local educational agencies and institutions of higher education.

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