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Grandville High School bolstering student mental health services thanks to state funding

Of the money passed in the state budget, $328 million is earmarked for school safety and student mental health.

GRANDVILLE, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a historic $25 billion budget over the summer. It includes millions of dollars to support school safety and student mental health.

One West Michigan school already using a proven and effective mental health program with students called 'be nice' is also taking advantage of the new funding.

Grandville High School’s ‘be nice’ club welcomed new students at a luncheon during the third week of classes.

“I think 'be nice' means loving who everyone is as themselves. You can't say that you enjoy someone's presence, or you're their friend, if you continuously only like a certain part of them," said Alexandria Smith, a student liaison at Grandville High School. 

The program was founded in 2012 by Christy Buck, the executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.

It has now been implemented in about 150 schools throughout the state.

“It's culture changing, it's utilizing language that's easy to understand of notice, invite, challenge and empower," Buck said.

The bedrock of the program in a school setting are the student liaisons.

“School can kind of become overwhelming and all the things going on at school. And I think just having a group of people there to support you and give you tips and tricks is great," said Emma Kusmierski, a student liaison at Grandville High School. 

Of the money passed in the state budget, $328 million is earmarked for school safety and student mental health; nearly $60 million to improve campus health facilities, plus the recruitment and retention of health professionals; and nearly $29 million to continue mental and physical health services at schools.

Because of that funding, Grandville High School was able to hire two new full-time interventionists this school year.

“We're really appreciative and grateful for this, because it gives us more opportunities to identify students in need, and then actually give them resources. So we've been lucky to actually hire new staff members whose sole jobs are to help students with social emotional needs," said Lori Koza, a counselor at Grandville High School.

The Mental Health Foundation also has a partnership with the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Every coach in the state—around 30,000 of them—are learning the 'be nice' action plan.

“The action plan is noticing changes in someone's behavior that may bring about a crisis situation. So that would be when somebody may be a harm to themselves or a harm to others," Buck said.

Experts say normalize talking about mental health not just in schools but at home as well.

“It's important because we don't talk about it enough in all areas of our communities. Grandville is an amazing spot to do that. I think they're very inclusive. And I think they're very intentional when talking about mental health. But that's only Grandville. There are so many other schools," Smith said.

For those struggling with their mental health they can contact the 988 helpline for immediate help or text “nice” to 741741.

Grand Valley State University conducted a study that found the 'be nice' program increased mental health awareness and decreased suicidal behaviors.

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