Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Iowa Department of Education and the University of Iowa today announced a partnership aimed at expanding support for mental health, including training, resources and outreach to educators and schools across the state.

The new Iowa Center for School Mental Health will leverage the capacities of the Iowa Department of Education and the University of Iowa College of Education’s Baker Teacher Leader Center. This partnership aims to:  
- Expand training opportunities for student teachers and practicing teachers.
- Provide professional development resources and services to support mental health needs in schools.
- Conduct research on the effective delivery of these services to students.

The Iowa Department of Education designated $20 million in federal relief provided in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER ll) Fund within the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act to help support the center’s work. Iowa received a total of $344.8 million in ESSER II funding. The law provides for a portion of those funds to be used for state-level educational efforts to address urgent issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State officials say the new partnership is part of a larger statewide initiative to support student well-being and mental health through new partnerships and strategies that help all students be future-ready.

“The Iowa Center for School Mental Health further reinforces our commitment to ensuring Iowa’s youth have all the tools they need to be successful in school and in life,” Reynolds said in a news release. “This partnership between the Department of Education and the University of Iowa College of Education will better prepare schools and teachers to meet the behavioral and mental health needs of Iowa’s K-12 students, a role that’s increasingly important in a post-pandemic world.”

Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said ensuring that students feel connected and supported is crucial to their overall well-being and academic achievement.

“The Iowa Center for School Mental Health brings together education partners, policymakers and mental health professionals to address the impact pandemic-related disruptions have had on students and will focus on strengthening mental health support moving forward,” Lebo said.

The center will start providing services and support to schools this summer and throughout the 2021-22 school year. This will include crisis response services, face-to-face and online training and coaching for teachers, strategic planning support, needs assessment, and program evaluation of social-emotional learning and positive behavioral interventions and supports.

According to a post on the university’s website, the new center will be housed in the UI College of Education, initially partnering with experts in four UI colleges: the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine; the School of Social Work in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the College of Nursing; and the College of Public Health.

"I am proud that our university and college are part of this critical partnership to meet the mental health needs of Iowa K-12 students and their families, teachers, administrators and other school employees," said University of Iowa College of Education Dean Daniel Clay. "We are grateful to our state leadership for recognizing the expertise in our college and across campus to bring best practices and evidence-based support to schools. Together, we will help create healthier, stronger and more resilient students, educators and communities."

More information on how schools can access services through the new center will be provided soon, according to the Department of Education.