The Grand Forks School Board on Monday, Feb. 22, unanimously approved an application for a grant to the CIGNA Foundation to fund a pilot project that addresses the mental health of elementary school children.

The school district is planning to apply for a $68,020 grant under the CIGNA Foundation Healthier Kids for Our Future program.

Grant funds would be used for programming that addresses the mental health and emotional well-being of children, with an emphasis on loneliness, anxiety, depression and suicide prevention, Catherine Gillach, assistant superintendent of secondary education, told the board during its Monday meeting.

The pilot project, called School Health Hub, would provide longer-term individual or group counseling services to students at Viking Elementary School, family counseling and consultation services to Viking families, and outreach services to Viking stakeholders.

“If it’s successful, we’d want to grow it into other (school) buildings and programs,” Gillach said.

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Kiya Knable, a social worker at Viking, “put together a whole vision” for this project, along with Principal Jolyn Bergstrom and Tracy Meagher, social worker, at the school.

Bergstrom, Knable and Meagher have been discussing these needs and working on a program to address them for some time, Gillach said.

“It’s been in the ideation stage” until this grant opportunity became available, she said. The CIGNA grant, which represents the mechanism for funding, was the only missing piece “to get it across the goal line.”

The grant was written with input from the district’s mental health coordinator, Geoff Gaukler, and grant writer Taunya Schleicher.

The project is the result of a collaborative partnership between Viking Elementary School staff and the UND Counseling and Counseling Psychology programs. It fills a counseling need for elementary school-aged children and families who may not otherwise access such services due to barriers, Gillach said.

Under a new policy, such grant applications must be approved by the School Board before they can be submitted.

This grant application is facing “a tight timeline,” Gillach said, noting submission is due shortly. “We are lucky it came up when it did” and could be presented for approval at Monday’s board meeting.

Superintendent Terry Brenner said this is the first time a grant application has come before the school board for approval since the policy was approved.

Board member Chris Douthit questioned why board approval is required and suggested that this step unnecessarily interferes with school district administrators’ work and may slow down, or prevent, their ability to capture grant-funding opportunities.

School Board Vice President Eric Lunn said the policy would be sent back to the board’s policy review committee for reconsideration.

Also Monday:

  • The board gave a second reading and approved various proposed policy changes, which run the gamut from governing possible reductions in force (although none are planned at present), student suspension and expulsion, staff leave, child nutrition programming and emergency closings.
  • The board approved the selection of SitelogIC as the firm to provide guaranteed energy savings performance services. Future work for the company, however, hinges on a possible referendum vote.