Jefferson County Public Schools was awarded $825,164 by the Colorado State Board of Education last week as part of an effort to support emotional and social health among students — and marijuana paid for it. The money came from the School Health Professionals Grant Program, a state initiative that uses marijuana tax revenue to pay for school health professionals across Colorado.
In an August 22 announcement, Jeffco Public Schools said it will use the funds over the next three years to hire six social and emotional learning specialists for elementary schools as well as three full-time nurses for high schools, all of which are new positions. “Early, consistent intervention is critical to student physical and emotional health,” Jeffco Public Schools Chief Student Success Officer Kevin Carroll said in announcing the funds. “As educators, we understand and value that the social and emotional well-being of our students, as well as their physical health, directly impacts their ability to fully access learning opportunities.”
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The new staffers will work at fourteen schools around Lakewood and Wheat Ridge, selected in part because of their proximity to recreational marijuana dispensaries. Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division data shows that there are four licensed dispensaries in Wheat Ridge and twelve in Lakewood, though all the Lakewood dispensaries are medical-only, as recreational sales are banned in the city. However, both towns border Edgewater, a town with six recreational pot shops, and are close to Federal Boulevard and West Colfax Avenue – two streets known for their high number of dispensaries.
"The evidenced-based work of the new school health professionals will target climate and culture, explicit instruction of evidence-based best practices related to social emotional learning, substance abuse prevention, and behavioral supports in a multi-tiered system of support," according to the announcement. Schools will be able to choose the programs that best suit their students, but they must be vetted and evidence-based in order to receive the funding.
Nine of the fourteen schools receiving grant money have active teams participating in the Jeffco Be a Healthy School initiative, a health- and wellness-focused initiative that incorporates programs like wellness committees, fitness plans and healthy eating, while the other five have committed to starting teams of their own.