Five schools in the New Haven public school system will receive a grant totaling $965,000 from the Dalio Foundation for school-based mental health support.

The grant marks the fourth year of the collaboration between the Dalio Foundation, a Connecticut-based family foundation, and the New Haven-based Clifford Beers Clinic. Over the years, the foundation’s continued funding has enabled the clinic to implement a mental health system of care in New Haven Public Schools.

“We work side-by-side with teachers to build trusting relationships with students and their families and to provide evidence-based and trauma-informed care to help every student excel,” said Alice Forrester, Clifford Beers’ Chief Executive Officer, in a September press release announcing the grant.

During the 2018–2019 academic year, the grant will provide five New Haven schools — elementary schools Bishop Woods School, Truman School and the Wexler-Grant Community School, as well as high schools like Hill Regional Career High School and the High School in the Community — trauma support services, which will serve more than 200 students districtwide. The Clifford Beers Clinic will provide full-time, in-school mental health clinicians and community care coordinators to guide the students’ emotional and academic needs.

News of the grant comes as the district has been forced to make tough decisions, facing an over $8 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. During a special New Haven Board of Education meeting in August, board members unanimously passed the Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks’ recommendation to lay off 15 school counselors, five library media specialists and four physical education teachers, a week before classes started. According to the New Haven Register, Birks said in a statement that the district will not rehire school counselors to replace outside specialists the schools already employ, citing the depth of these specialists’ professional training.

The Dalio funding provides in-school clinical therapy paired with at-home care coordination work. Sheryl McNamee, director of public affairs at the clinic, explained the role of care coordination and emphasized how this dual approach impacts student’s lives.

The clinic aims to use the fund to improve school attendance and reduce suspensions. According to McNamee, from the schools served by the Dalio grant, 83 percent of participating students had no suspensions or reduced suspensions from the previous year.

“We don’t go in asking ‘what’s wrong with you?’ The question is whether we can we get to the root of the problem,” she said. “Discipline doesn’t do anything — many times, it’s just a Band-Aid.”

In-school clinical therapy includes working with students to overcome emotional barriers, including disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder — which has a significant presence in New Haven public schools, McNamee added. Care coordinators, on the other hand, are involved in the community: They work with the student families to provide needed resources.

In an interview with WNHH Radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program last month, Forrester said that the clinic is a vital resource to the community while the school board is under immense financial pressure. She added that outside resources are often used to provide mental health care through the donations of philanthropic organizations.

“Our teachers seen firsthand the effects of adversity, trauma and stress on our students. They know that these factors have the potential to negatively impact a child’s ability to achieve and be successful in school,” Birks said in a Sept. 20 statement.

Forrester said the clinic has been developing a model that is both cost-efficient and useful to students in the classroom — instead of sending them to out-of-school programs that detract from their social and emotional learning.

He added that the Clifford Beers Clinic hopes to extend its treatment to all New Haven schools in the future.

The clinic was founded in 1913.

Alayna Lee  |

Maya Vaknin  |