Adult and 3 students look at plant in a jar while standing outside among trees.

Researchers Work to Enhance Mental Health Supports in Both School & Afterschool Settings

Youth-Nex researchers received a grant from the Spencer Foundation to coordinate mental health supports in and out of schools to ensure equitable access for students.

Leslie Booren

UVA School of Education and Human Development Associate Professor Michael Lyons, University of Illinois Chicago Assistant Professor and co-principal investigator Aisha Griffith, and colleagues have been awarded a $75,000 Vision Grant from the Spencer Foundation. With the new funding, the team will engage researchers, policymakers, youth workers, educators, and youth to evaluate equity-centered practices for engaging out-of-school time (OST) and school-based programs in promoting positive mental health of K-12 students. 

This project, which is one of the first to be funded in the new Vision Grant program, will address a knowledge gap by identifying the information, expertise, and tools OST and school staff need to collaborate with each other to support equitable school mental health services. 

“Youth mental and behavioral health needs have dramatically increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for historically marginalized youth that were disproportionately impacted,” said Lyons, who also is the associate director for research and equity at the Youth-Nex research center.

To address these inequities, this project will take a multi-systemic approach in which schools and OST programs collaborate to promote youth mental health services.

“Almost 8 million youth participate in OST programs,” said Lyons. “The OST workforce represents a significant, underused resource to increase the capacity to address youth mental health. OST programs are often left out of efforts to coordinate mental health services for youth due to barriers that limit the collaboration between agencies. But we are hoping to change that.”

The team will also develop a research proposal to test how these skills impact equitable youth outcomes. Other Youth-Nex researchers on this project include Nancy Deutsch, Linda K. Bunker Professor of Education and associate dean for faculty affairs, and research assistant professors Ashlee Sjogren and Faith Zabek. 

The Spencer Foundation Vision Grants program funds “the collaborative planning of innovative, methodologically diverse, interdisciplinary research on education that contributes to transforming education systems for equity,” according to their website. “This new program is designed to provide scholars and collaborators with the time, space, resources, and support to plan for a future large-scale study or program of research.”


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Audrey Breen