Being a parent isn’t easy…guiding children in the right direction, bestowing on them the right amount of love, fun and discipline, knowing when to say yes and when to say no. Parents are their children’s first teachers and the ones who show them so much about life through their words and their actions.

When it comes time to send their children to school, there are more decisions to make. Parents must choose a school that will provide their children with the most challenging curriculum so they will be able to compete for slots at top universities. At the same time, parents want to be sure the school is a safe and nurturing environment, free of bullying, drugs and violence.

McAllen ISD has taken a big step toward providing the most healthy and safe environment for their students. The Department of Education recently awarded the district the Safe Schools Healthy Students (SS/HS) Federal Grant. McAllen is one of only 70 districts in the nation and one of five in Texas to land this highly competitive grant.

The grant’s five elements are:

? To increase the number of children who feel safe at school.

? To reduce alcohol, tobacco and drug use among youth.

? To increase pro-social behaviors and positive decision-making in students.

? To increase access to mental health services to students and families to promote well-being.

? To increase parents’ access to resources to support school readiness in children.

The four-year grant was awarded July 1, 2008. There is the possibility of extending the grant for a fifth year upon successful implementation and proven results.

The district has enlisted the help of three partners. The Hidalgo County Juvenile Probation Department has assigned one full-time probation officer and one STAR instructor to the district. STAR is a program for non-compliant students who repeatedly disregard McAllen ISD’s Student Code of Conduct.

The second SS/HS partner is Tropical Texas Behavioral Health. A Licensed Professional Counselor and four qualified mental health professionals have been hired to work with identified students on anger management, depression and other mental health issues.

The McAllen ISD Police Department is the final partner. Two police officers will conduct educational sessions on topics such as bullying, binge drinking, drugs and violence.

The partnership between these entities and the school district has been dubbed McAllen-SAFE Community Initiative, SAFE serving as an acronym for Students Are First in Education.

Additional staff will be hired as the program moves into full implementation. Data will be submitted monthly to an outside evaluator who will ensure that all grant requirements are met.

All MISD students have been given a permission slip for their parents to sign. The permission slip, in English and Spanish, allows students to participate in an anonymous survey. Sixty to seventy percent participation on the baseline survey is needed. Students may only complete the survey if their parents have signed the permission slip. All signed permission slips must be received by the end of January. The greater the participation, the better indication grant personnel will have as to the most pressing needs of McAllen ISD students.

Once the baseline surveys have been completed, the referral process can begin. Teachers, administrators, counselors, parents and community members can refer a student for help. All referrals will go through the McAllen Assistance Support Team (MAST) process in order to determine which aspects of the program the students need. The multi-faceted approach provides the student with a diverse range of providers.

The Safe Schools Healthy Students Federal Grant will allow McAllen ISD to expand its health and safety services and provide district parents peace of mind.

For more information on this grant and its services, contact Project Director Lisette Hinojosa at 618-6031.