WHITLEY COUNTY — Three school districts in Whitley County were awarded grants for the Lilly Endowment Comprehensive Counseling Initiative to assist students with mental health needs.

This is the second round of grants given to Indiana school districts; the first round was awarded in September 2017. Whitko Community Schools, Whitley County Consolidated Schools and Smith-Green Community Schools went in together on one proposal to better their chances of approval.

The result: WCCS received $353,700; SGCS $118,200; and Whitko received $134,800.

WCCS applied solo the first round of grants and SGCS and Whitko applied together, though none received a grant.

The grants aimed to encourage and provide resources for Indiana schools’ counseling programs. Schools need to be better equipped to assist students in the rising social media use, opioid crisis and expectations for adolescents’ achievements in a broadening global society.

Many school counselors are already worn too thin to take on the increasing needs of the students, such as stepping in to conduct state and advanced placement exams. The grant allows the school to create an entire new program with help from outside the school and within other parts of the school.

Grants were awarded to 39 school corporations and charter schools statewide. The amount of the grant was dependent upon student enrollment: applicants could apply for up to $100 per student in the district, though districts with fewer than 1,000 students were still able to apply for up to $100,000. The grant amounts ranged from $99,368 to $1.39 million.

Before the grants were awarded, administrators from WCCS, Whitko and SGCS met to better map out what their counseling program would consist of.

The local school districts plan to use the grant to develop a mentoring and job experience counseling initiative, providing students with the ability to make informed and skilled decisions as they attend college or join the workforce. Members of the community will be involved in the program to teach the students about soft skills in the workforce, such as working on a team and showing up on time. The counseling initiative at the schools will host a community summit and a business summit.

Before the grant awards were officially announced, leaders from WCCS, Whitko, SGCS and the county met to develop curriculum talking points and training for mentors and staff, as well as timelines and a binder of tips for those involved in the program.

The schools have planned out a budget for the next four years, as the grant must be used before the end of 2022. WCCS hired a talent development director, Lori Heuer, and SGCS and WCS plan to hire their own as well. This will ensure the schools are working well together and moving in the same direction.

WCCS, WCS and SGCS will work together to support one another and be more fiscally sound through training and implementing the programs jointly.

So far, the community response is positive.

“We have had great responses from our businesses across the county and beyond. We will be out there knocking on doors now that we have the funds,” said Laura McDermott, assistant superintendent of WCCS. “We’re looking at businesses across the board because the kids are interested in all types of things. The more variety, the better.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private foundation begun by the Lilly family through stock in the family’s pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Co..