Project AWARE

Funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Project AWARE aims to build state and local collaborative infrastructure to plan and implement mental health within grant-awarded school districts. The grant program increases youth access to services and resources in schools by raising awareness about mental health issues, increases early identification and screening of youth to detect unmet behavioral health needs, and expands the continuum of services and supports available to schools and their communities. In addition, grant funding provides training for school personnel to detect and respond to mental health needs and provides students and their families with additional services and supports.

In 2014, three Tennessee school districts piloted Project AWARE for a five-year period: Lauderdale County Schools, Lawrence County Schools, and Anderson County Schools. Additionally, in 2019, four more districts were selected to receive grant funding, including Cocke County Schools, Fayette County Schools, Hickman County Schools, and Lake County Schools. Three additional school districts were added in 2021, including Bledsoe County Schools, Haywood County Schools, and Scott County Schools.

In all three cohorts, school districts were pre-selected based on a variety of local data and unmet school- based mental health needs.

“Funding from the Project AWARE grant has helped address a critical need in our community. We are thankful to the department for providing the initial funding and also to our local board for recognizing the importance of this work by continuing the programming to serve our students,” said Shawn Kimble, Director of Schools, Lauderdale County Schools. “The programming developed through the initial grant funding and continued through local efforts is having a huge impact on meeting the academic and non- academic needs of our students and ensures we have resources in place to serve our school communities.”


Tennessee AWARE uses a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) framework customized for each district to structure the continuum of mental health-related programs, policies, and practices. The MTSS framework includes strategies to promote the social and personal development and wellness of all students (Tier I), strategies to support some students at risk or students with mild mental health challenges (Tier II), and strategies to support the few students who need more individualized and intensive supports (Tier III). AWARE expands school-based mental health services by employing district mental health professionals and formalizing agreements with mental health treatment providers in the community to co-locate services on school campuses.

Project Goals

  • Build state and local collaborative infrastructure involving key stakeholders to plan and implement school and community mental health partnerships and programs.
  • Increase community-wide mental health awareness to reduce stigma and promote help- seeking for mental health issues.
  • Promote positive school climate using the multi-tiered system of supports framework and evidence-based programming.
  • Increase school capacity to identify and respond to youth mental health needs.
  • Expand the continuum of mental health services to improve mental health access and reduce unmet treatment needs.
  • Develop local infrastructure to sustain and expand school mental health services beyond the duration of grant.

State & Local Level Success

·  Student and Family Engagement:

Project AWARE LEAs have been successful in engaging families and youth in mental health outreach efforts, selecting parents and youth to serve on Local and State Management Teams, developing school-based student behavioral health advisory committees, and training youth and family members on mental health awareness.

•  Professional development:

Professional Development opportunities are offered across the LEAs and throughout the state, focusing on topics such as: Youth Mental Health First Aid, Building Strong Brains for Educators, Restorative Practices, Six Pillars of a Trauma Informed School, PREPARE, and Movement as Medicine.

•  Mental Health Personnel:

LEAs have experienced success in hiring student support liaisons, social workers, and school-based therapists. The presence of these school-based mental health personnel has helped to de-escalate behavioral health crises and has supported referrals to appropriate mental health services.

•  Referral Pathway:

A tool to collect and disseminate student referrals was developed and refined with the second AWARE cohort. The Referral Pathway provides the underlying structure and process for identifying youth mental health concerns, further assessing needs, and referring youth to school and community-based providers. Referral pathways support a district’s school-based mental health initiatives by:

  • Defining the roles and responsibilities of the partners in a service delivery system,
  • Clearly articulating the procedures for managing referrals among partners,
  • Facilitating information-sharing,
  • Supporting the monitoring of interventions’ effectiveness, and
  • Promoting collaborative decision-making with the goal of achieving an optimal fit between students’ needs and the available services and resources.

·  Youth Councils: Project AWARE Youth Engagement

One of the key components of the AWARE grant focuses on engaging youth in mental health outreach and awareness-raising activities to promote mental wellness and reduce stigma associated with mental health challenges. The core mechanism for youth engagement is the creation of youth councils in district middle and high schools that are responsible for planning and implementing outreach activities. Youth councils are led by school social workers employed through the AWARE project in each district. Districts either formed new youth councils or integrated AWARE activities into existing school-based initiatives. AWARE Youth Council membership is open to any student who is interested in participating.