NEWPORT—The County Board of Education discussed a new program at their Thursday night meeting.

Project AWARE is now in Cocke County, and it aims to help promote mental health in the school system and community.

AWARE stands for Advancing Wellness And Resilience in Education.

Kim Guinn, AWARE Director for Cocke County, spoke to board members about the program and its goals.

She said the program was started after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. The pilot program lasted for five years, and a new five year grant period has now started.

The federal government provides the grant money through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Three pilot sites were developed in Anderson, Lauderdale and Lawrence counties in Tennessee.

Cocke County is one of four new locations that will receive funding to provide social workers to the school system.

Cocke will be the only county in East Tennessee to receive $285,000 in funding for the next grant period.

The AWARE program has six goals that aim to reduce the stigma around mental health in a community so that it can be discussed openly. It also creates infrastructure that is used over the five year program period and beyond.

“We want to make sure that people in the community know that mental health problems are just as common as physical health problems,” Guinn said.

“There is a lot of trauma in our lives and we are trying to bring mental health out in to the open and say that it’s okay to talk about it.”

The three social workers will be in the community working with school counselors, nurses and others, who can identify children that may be having a problem. They will mange mental health issues as well as things such as chronic absenteeism.

“We really have seen great outcomes with social workers,” Guinn said.

“The idea is to create a school based mental health program where we bring mental health folks in from Cherokee, Helen Ross McNabb and other organizations.

“There will be a mental health station in schools where children can come to talk about their problems. This also helps parents who may not be able to take their child to an appointment due to work or lack of transportation.”

In the coming weeks an analysis will be performed to see how the programs resources can be utilized. Guinn said the social worker positions have already been filled.

“We are looking at the geographical location of the schools and the number of students to see how to best use our resources. We have already hired the social workers and we are excited about getting them on board.

“We know from the pilot sites that they provide exceptional work and really can change the lives of students and families.”

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