Stephanie Porter has been selected as the District Project Director of the $9 million Federal AWARE II Mental Health Grant.
The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), in partnership with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, received the Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) grant. The funds are being distributed to three districts in the pilot program.
“I am very excited to be in the forefront of leading Bullitt County Public Schools in the direction of being a trauma informed school district,” Porter said. “I never dreamed that 22 years ago when I started in a classroom at Overdale Elementary, that my career would take me in this direction. Teaching special education led to my serving as the District Behavior Consultant which has now led to serving in the Project AWARE Director position.”
Porter explained the purpose of the Kentucky AWARE II project is to increase awareness of mental health issues among school-age youth and to support school personnel, parents, and other adults who interact with adults who interact with youth to identify, respond, and refer youth and their families to needed services.
“In Bullitt County we have established systems to offer more support for students affected by trauma or dealing with mental health issues,” she said. “We have been provided the necessary funding to train staff in the area of trauma informed practices and will reach out to all staff in direct contact with students, not only certified personnel.
Porter emphasized the goal through training and additional supports is to increase social-emotional learning and student engagement.
“Each school will have a mental health coach that will strengthen the existing pathway for students with behavioral and mental health concerns and will play a critical role in identifying and establishing supports for students at risk,” she said. “The overall scope of AWARE II is to improve the level of understanding of trauma within the schools and communities as well as to offer students support that will increase student achievement.”
Porter pointed out the national statistics of children who have been exposed to adverse childhood experiences is alarming.
“Students dealing with trauma and other mental health issues are more likely to have physical health issues as well as the display of academic and behavioral concerns,” she said. “Bullitt County students are no exception. We serve many students daily who have been affected by adverse childhood experiences or are currently living in situations that expose them to violence, drug abuse, incarcerated parents, death of a loved one and other experiences that have a negative effect on their development.”
Providing needed resources that may not be available in a district general fund and/or school budget gives BCPS the opportunity to be more proactive in providing mental health services at all schools.
“By being an informed district with resources available as needed, we are better able to serve our students and to meet their needs which will lead to a more successful educational experience for all students,” Porter said.
She will be working with two Licensed Clinical Social Workers and 25 Mental Health Coaches at all schools providing supports to students.
Porter is a graduate and employee of BCPS. She is very familiar with school staff and brings both knowledge and experience to her new role.
“As the district behavior consultant, I have been blessed to work with many amazing teachers throughout our district who truly have passion for students in trauma,” she said. “Many times, behaviors of concern manifest because of a history or present exposure to traumatic events. It is important to understand the cause the display of behaviors of concern before we are able to determine a possible solution.”
Porter has worked closely with district resources to assist families meet their needs. She cited this opportunity to form effective family relationships as beneficial in her new position.
“I have also acquired many hours of training in the area of trauma informed care and that training will allow me to work with the district in training others so Bullitt Schools can maintain sustainability,” she noted.
Porter’s short term project goal is to train the 25 mental health coaches within the district. There will be one trained coach at each building and these will be the teacher leaders in assisting in the training of their staff.
“We are currently training select teachers and administrators in a middle and high school collaborative,” she said. “Elementary schools participated in the collaborative last school year.”
During the 2019-2020 school year, a district social/emotional screener will be rolled out to allow teachers to identify students who may be dealing with their own traumatic experiences.
Porter said the data gathered from this screener, along with other criteria, will allow the new Licensed Clinical Social Workers to focus on the district’s most at-risk students.
“Our district social workers will also work with outside mental health agencies such as Our Lady of Peace and The Brook to assist in successful transition for students who have been hospitalized and are returning to our district,” Porter said.
Her long term goals (as outlined in the grant) is to offer training to agencies other than educational staff in the Youth Mental Health First Aid response program, such as local emergency public responders.
“Select students from the local high schools will be trained to be a resource to other students in their building who may reach out to a peer before an adult,” Porter affirmed. “The district will be continually working to improve the strategies that are implemented to assist students. This will directly connect to the Multi-Tiered System of Support.”
Porter earned a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Spalding University followed by a Master’s degree is in Special Education from Bellarmine University and a Rank 1 in Special Education with emphasis on emotional/behavior disorders.
She is currently enrolled and taking classes at the University of the Cumberlands to complete an Ed.S in Leadership.