Educators, local officials and parents all see how trauma affects the youth in Baltimore, and now the federal government is taking notice.
This week, Baltimore City was awarded two grants that in total exceed $7 million. The focus of both are to find ways to reduce the impact of trauma on students and the community.
“I ask our children, 'how many of you all have had a relative or a friend or have gone to a funeral of somebody who was shot down by gun violence?' And usually at least half of the audience will raise their hand that's not supposed to be normal,” said Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland.
A University of Maryland School of Social Work survey tried to measure the prevalence of violence in the lives of young people in West Baltimore. Forty-three percent of students said they witnessed physical violence at least once a week.
“Our children are saying it's traumatic to live on streets where we don't feel safe going out, we don't feel safe playing, we don't feel safe walking to school,” said Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City health commissioner.
The unrest of April 2015 put on full display the worst of what some kids were seeing, but it also served as a wake-up call to the government that officials on the ground could use more resources. This week they showed their support in dollars.
“We are thrilled to be the recipients of multiple grants that allow us to flip the narrative around violence, trauma, and health,” Wen said.
The health department was awarded a $5 million federal grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to implement new community programs. Baltimore City schools was awarded a $2.374 million Promoting Student resilience grant from the U.S. Department of Education to meet the needs of students affected by trauma. The money will be used to hire full-time mental health clinicians in 13 West Baltimore schools.
Earlier this month, the Department of Education also gave an additional $350,000 to Renaissance Academy, a school where three students were killed in one school year.
“In school, the way that trauma can come out with students is behavior and behavior affects their ability to achieve academically and to develop socially,” said Hallie Atwater, a community school coordinator for the University of Maryland School of Social Work Promise Heights initiative.
The grant money will also go toward expanding mentoring and support programs like Seeds of Promise at Renaissance Academy that works to transform young men into better citizens.
“Some of our young adults are adults themselves. They're living in crazy situations that you would never imagine, but they’re fighting through it and they're coming to school because that's where they feel the love at. And they’re coming to their mentors because that's where they feel the love at. And now we get to expand that and help bring young men up the way they're supposed to be brought up,” said Antwon Cooper, the CEO of Seeds of Promise.
In the program, mentors are available at all hours of the day to help guide students, and right now each mentor is assigned 20 students.
With the new funding Cooper said he’s hoping to eventually be able to divide mentors’ time better by having one mentor per eight students.