Aspen School District lands $250,000 state grant from marijuana taxes | AspenTimes.com

Aspen School District lands $250,000 state grant from marijuana taxes

The Aspen School District is getting a nice whiff of Colorado's marijuana tax collections in the form of a $250,000 grant the district will use to employ an on-campus social worker for the next three years.

The money from the Colorado Department of Education's School Health Professionals Grant Program will pay for the new hire starting this fall.

The social worker will deal directly with students and staff in grades pre-K through eighth, while having some contact with high school students. The person will emphasize self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making, according to a job posting that went up this week.

Assistant Superintendent Tom Heald said it is vital that the social worker engage younger students by providing them with social skills at an early age so they are better prepared to deal with the social pressures that come with high school, which for many students includes the introduction to substances such as alcohol, marijuana and harder drugs.

"On the high school level," he added, "we'd be more focused on intervention because there are some kids who may already have some involvement (in substances) and made some behavior choices around their use."

The School Health Professionals Grant Program aims to arm school districts and charters with money to staff school nurses, psychologists, counselors or social workers "to provide substance abuse and behavioral health care to students who have substance abuse or other behavioral health needs," according to the state education department's website.

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Heald announced the award to members of the Aspen Board of Education at its Aug. 24 meeting

The social worker will be based at Aspen Family Connections, a resource center located on the Aspen Middle School premises. The program, which launched in November 2016 and works in conjunction with Pitkin County Human Services and the School District, helps link families to resources related to emotional support organizations, addiction counseling, financial assistance, extracurricular activities, summer camps and other programs.

Katherine Sand, the nonprofit's executive director, said the new social worker fits into a broader community effort to tackle mental health and substance-abuse problems.

"Look at what the (Aspen) Police Department has done in hiring a (human services) officer," she said in reference to the department's creation of a position that focuses on aiding struggling local residents with breaking the patterns of jail, drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness. "(Officer Andy Atkinson) is having an amazing impact. So this (hiring of a social worker) is not isolated. It's really part of a community-wide thrust to look at people in a social and family context and to treat mental health."

Legal retail marijuana sales were introduced to Colorado in January 2014. Downtown Aspen is home to six dispensaries.

Recreational and medical dispensaries in Aspen sold more than $9.7 million worth of marijuana in 2016 and $8.35 million in 2015, according to the city's Finance Department.

Heald said the number of pot shops in Aspen, combined with the creation of the Valley Marijuana Council, an education and outreach program focused on all things marijuana, helped the School District land the grant.

"It's all a reflection of this collective effort that we realize we can't do it all alone," he said, adding that "substance abuse doesn't happen in a vacuum."

The state doled out approximately $9.4 million to schools for the 2017-18 through its School Health Professionals Grant Program. Grant applicants also had to demonstrate a match of 10 percent of the funds requested.

A combined 66 school districts and charters applied for the grants, said Phyllis Reed, the state education department's comprehensive health and physical education content specialist. About two-thirds of the applicants received grants, she said.

"We stretched the money as far as we could go," she said.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

GRANT GOALS

According to the Colorado Department of Education’s website, the School Health Professionals grants aim to do the following:

• Increase the presence of school health professionals in secondary schools to provide substance abuse and behavioral health care to students who have substance abuse or other behavioral health needs;

• Implement substance abuse prevention education and provide evidence based resources to school staff, students and families;

• Reduce barriers for enrolled secondary students, who are at-risk for substance abuse, to access services provided by community-based organizations for treatment and counseling.

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