The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools has awarded Shannon County School District in southwest South Dakota a $50,000 Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant to assist with ongoing recovery efforts following the suicide deaths of nine students during the 2009-2010 school year.
Project SERV grants provide funding to school districts and institutions of higher education that have experienced a traumatic event and need resources to respond to the aftereffects and re-establish a safe learning environment. The Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools has awarded more than $27 million to 86 grantees, including Shannon County, since the grants program began in 2001.
"When unfortunate events disrupt the lives of students and schools, it's vital that the learning process continue," said Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. "Project SERV provides districts and institutions of higher learning with resources to help respond in a timely manner.
"Suicide is the third leading cause of death for Americans ages 15-24. And 6 percent of all high school students report having attempted suicide, with nearly 14 percent of them saying that they have seriously considered it," adds Jennings, who serves on the Executive Committee of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. "Schools need resources not only to respond to but also to prevent suicides. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center www.sprc.org) is an excellent resource."
Shannon County School District is located within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (the second largest Indian Reservation in the United States). The school district serves approximately 1,200 students—99 percent of whom are enrolled tribal members. In addition to the schools in Shannon County, there also is a Bureau of Indian Education school, Pine Ridge School, located on the reservation. Pine Ridge School serves approximately 1,000 students.
"Suicide is an especially troubling phenomenon in native communities," said Jennings, "and we urge all who are concerned to visit the American Indian/Alaska Native section of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center site."
Shannon County is a close-knit community. Pine Ridge students are likely to have known each victim, and many are bound by kinship. During the same timeframe of the nine suicides, 45 students in grades 9-12 and 15 students in grades 3-8 were referred for services relating to severe depression and suicide ideation.
In response to the suicides, school-based mental health services were provided. However, even with these additional services, the schools are unable to meet the needs of all students requiring care. To help address these needs, Shannon County School District requested Project SERV Immediate Services funding to help restore the learning environment through the provision of additional support and case management services for students.
To view a list of grantees and award amounts, visit http://www2.ed.gov/programs/dvppserv/index.html.