[Newark, NJ] Newark Public Schools, the largest school district in New Jersey, is embarking on a groundbreaking initiative to address critical inequities in student access to health, mental health, economic, and social resources with an $8.9M grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Congress established the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 1992 to make substance use and mental disorder information, services, and research more accessible.
This new grant initiative, Project AWARE Newark, is a visionary undertaking that aims to create a culturally and linguistically-relevant, trauma-informed learning environment that fosters student well-being and resilience in one of the state's most diverse and under-resourced communities. Project AWARE Newark comprises several overarching goals and specific objectives.
In recognition of challenges experienced while accessing these resources, Project AWARE Newark seeks to enhance equitable access, experiences, and outcomes for its 39,000 students. This includes historically underserved racial/ethnic communities, LGBTQI+ students, and those with severe emotional disturbance/severe mental illness (SED/SMI).
“We are humbled and honored to accept this grant, which will help the district establish transformative socio-emotional programs,” stated Superintendent Roger León. “This grant represents not only represents a financial investment, but a profound belief in the power of empathy, understanding, and resilience to create a brighter and more connected world.”
Under Project AWARE Newark, Newark Public Schools will collaborate closely with the New Jersey State Education Agency (NJSEA), New Jersey State Mental Health Agency (NJSMHA), and Newark community mental health agencies to establish a comprehensive tiered system of equitable mental health supports. Through Project AWARE Newark, students will receive increased access to culturally and linguistically competent and affirming mental health supports and services, all thoughtfully organized under the district’s tiered system of supports.
Tier 1: A culturally-aligned, affirming socio-emotional universal curriculum will be implemented for all students, including those with SED/SMI. Empowering messaging will be disseminated through school assemblies and safe spaces like after-school clubs to promote affinity spaces for historically marginalized youth.
Tiers 2 & 3: Partnerships with various community organizations specializing in mental health will bring in school-based mental health clinicians trained in providing affirming small group and individual mental health care for LGBTQI+ youth, SED/SMI youth, and youth from historically underserved racial/ethnic communities. Research-based wellness and resilience interventions, such as Sources of Strength, Question. Persuade. Refer, Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools, Trauma-focused CBT, and Signs of Suicide, will be implemented.
Board President Asia J. Norton said, “Newark Public Schools is committed to ensuring that every student has the opportunity to thrive academically, emotionally, and socially. Project AWARE Newark represents a significant step toward achieving this vision, ultimately leading to a more equitable and inclusive educational community.”
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Nancy J. Deering, Acting Communications Director
About Newark Public Schools
The Newark Public Schools is the largest school district in New Jersey and dates back to 1676. The District currently enrolls over 39,000 students in 63 schools. After more than two decades of state operation and upon return to local control in 2018, the District has opened 9 new schools under Superintendent León’s leadership with an additional portfolio of new options to be announced in the coming months and years. The Newark Board of Education serves as a beacon of educational excellence, dedicated to nurturing the potential of every student. With a commitment to innovation, inclusivity, and fostering a love for learning, the District continues to shape future generations and make a positive impact within the community.