Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Education announced Aug. 16 the launch of a groundbreaking initiative to augment mental health support services in New Jersey schools.

As part of an ongoing commitment to prioritizing the well-being of students, the NJDOE is partnering with the Rutgers University Center for Comprehensive School Mental Health on the Enhancing School Mental Health Services Project, which will provide three years of intensive training to staff in 50 selected schools from across the state, enabling them to implement a robust tiered system of mental health supports.

The initiative is a significant step forward in equipping New Jersey schools with the necessary tools and resources to support their students’ mental health needs more effectively, according to the NJDOE.

In the spring of 2023, the NJDOE, in partnership with Rutgers, invited all districts to apply to be part of the project. The department and Rutgers identified 50 schools in 38 districts/charter schools with strong applications. The administrators of the selected school districts will participate in a project orientation in August, and the school-based mental health educator teams from each project school will begin project activities in September.

“The mental well-being of young people throughout our state is of the utmost importance, and it is our responsibility to provide them with the support they need to thrive,” Murphy said. “This collaborative initiative is another proactive approach our administration is taking to ensure New Jersey schools are equipped with the proper tools to address the mental health needs of students. By further expanding mental health supports for our youth, we will continue to foster a nurturing environment in our schools that encourages the overall well-being and success of our students.”

Under the guidance and expertise of the Rutgers University Center for Comprehensive School Mental Health, the 50 selected schools will receive intensive training on implementing evidence-based practices and strategies to strengthen mental health support services. While mental-health based services historically may have been handled individually on a case-by-case basis in some districts, the initiative aims to provide school communities with a comprehensive schoolwide system to better identify and address mental health concerns.

Rutgers trainers will work with school teams of educators, counselors, school psychologists, social workers, administrators and other school staff, and the school teams will, in turn, review approaches to mental health within their school and identify areas that need to be strengthened; explore opportunities for ongoing coaching and training of staff; promote best practices for identifying struggling students; evaluate possible partnerships with community mental health agencies; and examine improvements to how the school provides counseling and other needed supports.

“This collaboration represents a significant step in fostering a more resilient and empathetic educational system in New Jersey,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education. “Implementing a tiered system of mental health supports equips more New Jersey schools with the tools necessary to foster a culture of care and understanding for students. By partnering with Rutgers University Center for Comprehensive School Mental Health, more New Jersey educators will be supported and empowered to effectively identify and address mental health needs, ensuring that every child receives the support they deserve to thrive academically and emotionally.”

“We are very excited to have the opportunity to connect with 50 schools across the state and work intensively with them to support their implementation of a comprehensive school-based mental health system,” said Dr. Ann Murphy, Rutgers project director. “This project comes at a critical time, as students continue to experience increased mental health needs. Implementing new services and systems is always challenging, but our team at the Rutgers Center for Comprehensive School Mental Health has the experience and expertise to effectively partner with schools. Utilizing training, coaching, consultation and ongoing assistance, we’ll facilitate the development of high-quality mental health supports for students.”

You can read more about the state’s efforts to enhance mental health in our school, including the publication of the New Jersey Comprehensive School Mental Health Resource Guide in the full news release, which includes a full list of the 50 schools participating in the Enhancing School Mental Health Services Project.