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RSS gets $6 million grant to help at-risk students

By Sarah Nagem
snagem@salisburypost.com
The Rowan-Salisbury School System will receive $6 million in federal money over the next four years to offer extra services to students at risk of dropping out, abusing drugs and becoming violent.
The Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant comes from the U.S. Department of Education. The school system will get nearly $1.5 million this school year.
The money will allow the schools to focus on five issues: violence prevention; alcohol, tobacco and drug prevention; student behavioral support; mental health; and social and emotional learning.
Rowan-Salisbury schools plan to hire five social workers, five early-intervention specialists, two Spanish interpreters and two transition coordinators, said Tim Smith, student services director.
“These are services that we desperately need now,” Smith said.
To build relationships with students and their families, he said, social workers and early-intervention specialists will make home visits when students are having trouble.
“We’ve not had that connection, a real strong connection,” Smith said.
Transition coordinators will assist students dealing with mental health diagnoses. For example, Smith said, a student might need some extra guidance after a mental-health hospital stay.
Smith said the school system will also hire a coordinator for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, a federal program.
The money will also be used to hire Spanish-language interpreters, he said.
“Our Hispanic population is growing so much that we just don’t have enough people to help us with that.”
The competitive Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant is a collaboration with the federal Education, Justice and Health and Human Services departments.
The goal of the grant is to address high-risk behaviors, like bullying, gang activity and drug use.
Smith said he wants the school system to take a pre-emptive approach to such problems and risk factors.
“My goal was to do a whole lot more prevention versus intervention in the future,” he said.
He hopes the program will lead to fewer dropouts.
“This will help us to start interventions real early,” Smith said.
The grant money is to also be used to build relationships with local law enforcement, mental-health and juvenile justice agencies.
The money is also for staff development dealing with at-risk students and “helping to solve some of those risk factors,” schools superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said.
The grant is the largest the school system has received, said Dr. Jim Emerson, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.
This year, two other school systems in North Carolina received Safe Schools/Healthy Students grants ó Randolph County Schools and Pender County Schools.

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