How to Apply for the Safe Schools/Healthy Students State Program

Recent tragic events remind us of the urgent need for comprehensive programs that create safe school environments. The Safe School/Healthy Students (SS/HS) State Program aims to produce safer and more supportive schools and communities by awarding $14 million in grants to develop strong partnerships among key community systems.

This grant enables state agencies/tribes to select three local education agencies to help bring the SS/HS model of partnership to scale at the state/tribe level.  An estimated seven awards will be granted, totaling up to $2.2 million annually for four years for each awardee.

Eligible applicants include the State Education Agency (SEA) or State Mental Health Authority in states, territories and the District of Columbia, and federally recognized American Indian/Alaskan Native Tribes and Tribal organizations.

SS/HS Applies Local Model to State Level

The SS/HS Initiative has a long history of funding local education agencies to support community partnerships that bring together key agencies that serve children and youth. This grant takes the next step by bringing the local model to scale at the state/tribe level.  Because the grant is a program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there is an emphasis on mental and behavioral health, in addition to violence prevention.

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State agencies/tribes must drive the application process but will select three local pilot communities with which to partner to develop and implement a comprehensive plan.  The selected local communities and their state/tribe will use grant funds to improve collaboration across all child, youth and family serving organizations. Ideally, the new partnerships will increase access to the availability of evidence-based prevention and wellness promotion practices, such as the implementation of a multi-tiered behavioral framework that builds collaboration among schools and mental health agencies by offering interventions at multiple points to lead to greater chance for success. An example would be a mental health program that provides training for teachers by mental health experts on identification and referral strategies for students, home-based early intervention services for the broader school community, law-enforcement officers to provide safety training to school staff to learn how to properly handle emergency situations that may arise from mental health crises and more.

In addition, the process should focus on school-based and community-wide strategies to prevent violence and promote the healthy development of children and youth. Examples include workshops hosted at school sites by local law enforcement on violence prevention and safety issues—not just for students but also for school staff and parents.  An example would be a facilitated session for students and parents, led by a law enforcement officer, to share strategies on drug abuse prevention at a local high school.

Implemented at the local level, the SS/HS initiative has led to a reduction of violence on school grounds and an increase in the number of students receiving school and community-based mental health services.  Collaboration among local agencies (such as law enforcement, mental health services and school staff) enables a broader base of knowledge, skills and resources to respond to these issues. This grant places the SEAs in the position to build on strong partnerships across multiple agencies (education, law enforcement and mental health agencies) at the state level to develop integrated systems that can positively influence the policies, programs and services offered at the local level.

Educational Agencies Must Use Evidence-based Programs

SEAs/tribes are required to select three local education agencies within three local communities based on their “readiness” and “willingness” to partner with the SEAs/tribes. The grant defines “readiness” as a demonstration of the local education agencies’ ability to address needs related to the five SS/HS elements (see below). “Willingness” shows that the local education agencies have the ability to identify partners (local education, mental health, law enforcement and juvenile justice) who will collaborate on program implementation.

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During the first 11 months of the grant, the three local education agencies and their community partners must select evidence-based programs that prevent violence and promote positive youth development. The Request for Application (see below for Web site) offers detailed guidance on how programs qualify as “evidence-based” under the grant requirements. The programs need to be culturally and linguistically relevant to the populations and sub-populations of focus. However, all three local education agencies do not have to use the same program.

At least 75% of the grant monies must be used by the three local education agencies and their respective community partners. The state/tribe may reserve up to 15% of the grant award for its own use and up to 10% for project evaluation expenses.

It’s important to note that local education agencies that have previously been awarded a SS/HS grant are not eligible to participate in this funding opportunity.

Required Grant Elements Must be Addressed at the Local Level

As part of the development of a comprehensive plan, the selected local education agencies must address each of the five SS/HS Elements at the local level. Elements Three, Four, and Five include components most relevant to law enforcement agencies’ involvement. The elements are:

  1. Promoting Early Childhood Social and Emotional Learning and Development: This element is intended to lay the foundation for future healthy interpersonal relationships, association with nonviolent peers and improved academic achievement. Examples of strategies include training of parenting and caregivers, and developing programs that address children at higher risk for problem behavior through home visitation or crisis intervention.
  2. Promoting Mental, Emotional and Behavioral Health: This element supports improved coordination, resource-sharing, and integration of mental, emotional and behavioral services. Research shows that partnerships between schools and mental health agencies can increase access to early intervention and universal prevention services, leading to less violence in schools. Examples include providing school-based mental health screenings by trained experts and early intervention services for at-risk children and providing referrals to local public mental health agencies when treatment is indicated.
  3. Connecting Family, Schools and Communities: This element links families, schools and communities together to improve the quality of their engagement in the planning and implementing of programs and activities to assist students. Research shows that integrated programs that provide family services and support improve
    the school safety climate and increase parents’ skills.  Examples of strategies include the implementation of an evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral framework to address behavior, such as the “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports” framework that offers students access to a wide range of behavioral and mental health interventions by highly trained staff both within school and from outside professionals. A framework offers a multi-pronged approach to increase the chance for successful outcomes.  As one prong of support, local law enforcement officers usually provide training on effective yet restorative justice practices that focus on empowering youth and building relationships instead of more punitive practices in place in many school settings.
  4. Preventing Behavioral Health Problems: This element addresses the prevention and reduction of risk factors associated with behavioral health problems including substance abuse, not only at the individual and school levels, but also at the family and community levels. Examples of programs include engaging parents in programs, especially those related to substance use and abuse among youth, and implementing district-wide prevention curricula designed to address the specific needs of the ages, genders and ethnicities of students being served. The curricula can be a combination of school-wide approaches to focus on universal prevention and targeted interventions for youth who are high-risk or already engaging in drug use. Outside agencies, such as local law enforcement, can help to provide programming for the curricula through visiting officers leading school assemblies or teacher workshops to share strategies for drug awareness and prevention, for example.
  5. Creating Safe and Violence-Free Schools: This element is intended to identify and address the broad gamut of issues, conditions, behaviors and structures that contribute to unsafe school environments and violence in schools—ranging from drug abuse by students to unsafe facilities and beyond. Strategies include conducting workshops on school safety issues for school staff and parents, establishing supportive discipline practices that are monitored and reviewed to inform even better future practices, and instituting a district-wide, research-based violence prevention curriculum.  As one example, local law enforcement can provide guidance, case management and coordinated services for students reentering the school system from juvenile justice. 

Grant Deadline Is Quickly Approaching
Interested state agencies and tribes must act quickly. The grant deadline is July 1, 2013. For more information, visit the SAMHSA site at and complete the Request for Application (RFA).  

Questions can be directed to Michelle Bechard, Team Lead for Safe Schools/Healthy Students, at (240) 276-1872 or

About the author: Dr. Paula Love is president of, a consulting company that provides custom bid searches for security funding and other types of grant opportunities. She can be reached at

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