Within a few weeks, two area school districts hope to have additional help in place for students in need of assistance with behavioral issues.

Hays USD 489 and Plainville USD 270 were among 27 in the state awarded grants for the Mental Health Intervention Team, a program of the Kansas Department of Education.

The Hays district received $41,975, while Plainville received $20,222.

The grants will pay 75% of the salary for a behavioral health school liaison whose role will be to help students and their families navigate services with mental health providers. The school districts will pay the other 25%.

USD 489 is taking applications for the position now and hopes to have the position hired within a few weeks, assistant superintendent Shanna Dinkel said.

In Plainville, superintendent Lisa Gehring said she will take a name to the school board next month for approval. That person will work with both of the district’s buildings but will work outside the school system.

“Part of his role is going to be working with the faculty and staff to develop interventions to better assist students who might be struggling,” Gehring said.

Both schools will work with High Plains Mental Health Center as the designated community mental health provider required in the state program.

The state program’s guidance document emphasizes helping children who are in the foster care system, but USD 489’s Dinkel said it is meant for all children in the district.

“Students in the foster care system will be a focus but it is an intervention program for all kids in our school system,” Dinkel said.

USD 489 will place the liaison at the middle school.

“Obviously, transition years can be difficult,” Dinkel said.

The liaison would help students as they transition from elementary to middle school and perhaps even into their first year of high school.

“It would just be another layer of support, where the liaison will work with the school team, any interventions that are happening, and then help reach out to the family members for possible mental health services,” she said.

“We are looking for someone with school counseling and mental health or behavioral background,” Dinkel said. “They can be of assistance to the school team, educators at school, as to how to help meet the needs of the kids, start some interventions before they need to be referred for mental health services.”

Often, families are not sure what services might be available to help their children, Plainville’s Gehring said. The liaison will help make them aware of behavioral and mental health services available in the area.

The grant funds the position for one year. Gehring hopes that year will show enough benefits that her district might be able to expand the program.

“My hope is this is just the beginning, that we’re able to build the foundation this year of the program, with the idea the we can expand upon the program, whether that means that we expand upon the program within our own district, or we reach out to other area districts and can provide some support and guidance for them as well,” she said.