Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO plans to get some assistance from Dr. Leana Wen by applying for a government mental health grant. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

The Baltimore school system has applied for a federal grant that would funnel up to $2.3 million for mental health services to 13 schools in West Baltimore.

The Promoting Student Resilience grant is designed to help school systems address the behavioral and mental health needs of students in communities that have experienced significant civil unrest in the past two years.


The school district, in partnership with the Health Department and several other city agencies, submitted its application last month to the U.S. Department of Education.

The schools that would benefit are in Upton-Druid Heights, Penn North and Sandtown-Winchester, neighborhoods that were most affected by the protests and riots last year after the death of Freddie Gray. Gray, 25, died in April 2015 after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody.

Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises told The Baltimore Sun's editorial board Thursday that increasing mental health services in the city's schools would be a priority of her administration this year.

The grant supports efforts to help teachers better understand and educate highly traumatized and troubled students.

"That doesn't mean third-grade teachers have to become licensed clinicians," Santelises said.

School officials want to increase the number of clinicians and mental health screenings for students and launch stress-reduction and mindfulness groups.

"This is nothing more than young people in other communities have access to already, through insurance or other connections," Santelises said.

The schools grant aligns with a Resiliency in Communities after Stress and Trauma grant being sought by the city Health Department. That grant would focus on the same three communities.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said she wants to strengthen the relationship between her department and the school system.

"Dr. Santelises understands that in order for our children to be well, in order for our children to learn, they also need to have these underlying issues be addressed," Wen said. "We have to bring trauma training to everyone who comes into contact with our children."

The Baltimore Sun reported on the prevalence of trauma in city students' lives in the 2014 series "Collateral Damage." The series detailed how people, especially children, suffer when living in violent neighborhoods.

Promise Heights, a program of the University of Maryland School of Social Work that has partnered with the Upton-Druid Heights community, released the results of a survey last year that captured students' experiences.

More than 200 students from Baltimore Renaissance Academy High School — where a student was accused of fatally stabbing another student last year — and Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts were surveyed.

Forty-three percent of the students said they witnessed physical violence at least once a week, and 39 percent said they knew someone who had been killed at a young age.


Forty percent said they knew someone who possessed a gun, and nearly 19 percent said they could easily get one.