LACONIA — The Laconia School District is slated to receive more than $3.2 million in federal grant funds to reduce and prevent youth violence, bolster student and family engagement and better support school and community-based mental health services.
“These funds will allow us to do some work and expand some work that we wouldn’t be able to do,” said Superintendent of Schools Steve Tucker.
The state’s Congressional delegation announced last week that the school district will get $3,212,500 from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education. Of that, $775,000 will be awarded over three years through a DOJ initiative known as Project Safe Schools, while the DOE will provide $2,437,500 over five years through the Project Prevent Program.
The Laconia School District has a population of 1,996 students in five schools, with nearly half eligible to receive free lunch and 143 others eligible for reduced-fee meals.
The grant funds will be used to expand after-school programs for high school students, increase school-based mental health services provided onsite by Lakes Region Mental Health Center, convert the job status of existing family outreach social workers from part-time to full-time, and strengthen the partnership with the Laconia Police Department and Family Resource Center.
Congressman Chris Pappas, D-N.H., met with Adverse Childhood Experience Response Team (ACERT) members in August to learn more about the program that connects children, who have experienced traumatic events, with resources in their school and community to help them heal and learn skills to help lessen the impact of other fearful experiences.
“The response has been overwhelming. Everyone realized that this a gap and a need. Now we need to focus on letting families know that this exists,” said Kerri Lowe, ACERT coordinator at the Family Resource Center.
McKenzie Harrington-Bacote, who heads the Office of School Wellness and is also the grants administrator for the Laconia School District, told Pappas that each of the city schools have a social worker.
In her six years of work with the district, she said there has been a steady increase in behavioral issues. One quarter of the city’s students come from households with drug addiction and many are themselves born drug-addicted.
When children come to school burdened with adverse experiences, Harrington-Bacote said, they pass that trauma on to staff. That realization prompted the hiring of social workers and the development of a 10-question, yes-or-no-answer assessment to help school officials get a better idea of what was happening within a child’s family.
The district now has mental health clinicians onsite to work with students, and social workers help make the bridge to families who are then connected with various resources. A grief counseling group was formed after four elementary students at the same city school suffered the death of a parent within a year, Harrington-Bacote told Pappas.
School Board Chairman Mal Murray said the district is fortunate to have Harrington-Bacote, who not only has talents as a grant writer but also works well with the staff implementing the programs benefiting from the grants.
“She’s worth her weight in dollars,” he said.
Last year, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., visited Laconia schools and discussed the importance of the district’s innovative efforts to prevent substance misuse and address students’ behavioral health and wellness. Hassan brought Harrington-Bacote to the 2018 State of the Union address as her guest to emphasize the importance of focusing on those issues.