MADISON, Wis. -

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction will use an $8.7 million federal grant to improve school safety in the Beloit, Racine and Menominee Indian school districts, according to a release.

The districts were chosen as part of the departments’ Safe Schools-Healthy Students State and Pilot Community grant application to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, according to the release. The grant program brings together educational, behavioral health, and criminal and juvenile justice systems.

The DPI will work with communities in the districts to integrate systems that promote mental health, enhance academic achievement, prevent violence and substance abuse, and create safe and respectful school climates, officials said. Projects funded by the four-year grant will serve about 28,000 students each year.

According to the release, Wisconsin is one of seven states to receive a Safe Schools-Healthy Students grant.

“This grant will support efforts to create family, school and community connections that support students’ social and emotional skills and address behavioral and mental health needs that many times impair academic achievement,” State Superintendent Tony Evers said in the release. “When students feel safe and connected in school, they have a much better chance of doing well in their studies and graduating ready for college and careers.”

The first year of the grant will be used to develop management teams at the state and local levels and conduct needs assessments, according to the release. Local communities will form teams of representatives from educational institutions, law enforcement, behavioral health and juvenile justice agencies.

For the rest of the project years, evidence-based programs and practices will be implemented and evaluated, according to the release. The types of programs could include helping students cope with early childhood trauma, alcohol and drug abuse prevention, anti-bullying efforts, or early childhood social and emotional development. Programs will be reviewed annual to suggestion program improvements.

“Issues that affect the learning environment of schools – such as bullying, fighting, alcohol and substance abuse, need for mental health services, and truancy – cannot be solved by schools alone,” Evers said. “Collaboration brings together the knowledge, skills and resources of various local public, private and community agencies to respond and help our kids have safer schools and better lives.”

The goal of the Safe Schools-Healthy Students grant program is to increase the number of children and youth who have access to behavioral health services, decrease the number of students who abuse substances, increase support for early childhood development, improve school climate and reduce the number of students who are exposed to violence, according to the release.

Safe Schools-Healthy Students has served more than 13 million youth in 365 communities since it began in 1999, officials said. Previous local education agency grants in Wisconsin went to schools in the Beaver Dam Unified, Fond du Lac, Green Bay Area Public, Madison Metropolitan, Milwaukee Public and Wautoma Area school districts.