Cook Center for Human Connection’s ‘Helping Helpers Help’ program will serve middle schools in New Mexico and Arizona to bridge systemic access inequalities to mental health support
The Cook Center for Human Connection has been awarded a $3.99 million Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for its program, “Helping Helpers Help: An Integrated Model for Empowering Educators and Parents as Partners in Supporting Student Wellness and Learning.” The Cook Center is among the first awardees to receive EIR funds for a project with an exclusive focus on mental health and suicide prevention as keys to improving school climate and learning. The program will serve 83 middle schools in New Mexico and Arizona by bridging systemic access inequalities to mental health supports, reducing barriers to learning, and helping educators, parents, and caregivers better support young people’s social-emotional well-being.
The DOE announced $277 million in new grant awards to advance educational equity and innovation, earmarking $87.2 million for programs that support social-emotional well-being, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year. “The Department of Education has recognized that youth mental health is a crisis that threatens the education and well-being of millions of students,” said Anne Brown, CEO and president of the Cook Center. “In a historic move, they have awarded the largest amount of EIR funding to social-emotional learning initiatives, and recognized that our program can provide critical support to underserved communities in addressing mental health challenges that hinder students’ ability to engage and learn.”
The Cook Center’s model focuses on the protective factors for youth mental health and suicide prevention in which schools and parents play a critical role. Through the grant, the schools will participate in ParentGuidance.org, which includes one-on-one parent coaching for all parents of schoolchildren, interactive mental health series webinars hosted by trained professionals, and a library of on-demand online courses taught by licensed therapists. School faculty and staff will also participate in professional development sessions to complement the resources available to parents.
In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency, noting that child and adolescent healthcare professionals are “caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, and their communities.” Mental health factors have become especially formidable barriers to learning following the pandemic, intensifying a national imperative for innovation in better supporting student mental health and wellness.
“The grant awards will fund some of the nation’s most promising efforts to raise the bar for academic recovery, excellence, and equity in education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cordona. “All of this year’s grantees are pioneering exciting, evidence-based strategies to close opportunity gaps and provide young people with the engaging and impactful learning experiences they deserve so that they can achieve at high levels.”
Research has established that school-based mental health and suicide programs that engage parents can increase the effectiveness of all interventions. The Cook Center’s newly funded project will serve two high-need areas: New Mexico, which has the second-highest suicide rate in the nation; and Arizona, where the suicide rate is 35% higher than the national rate. The EIR grant will advance the Cook Center’s model through pilot testing and iterative improvements, new culturally and linguistically responsive resources, and rigorous evaluation that addresses critical research gaps.
Though only two years old, the Cook Center’s model has already been adopted by 229 districts and 3,617 schools, offering more than 2.4 million families access to services across 37 states. The grant offers an opportunity to accelerate the adoption. For more information about the Cook Center’s work and its resources, visit CookCenterforHumanConnection.org.
The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.