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Benton Harbor schools using grant money to make positive change

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- A $2 million safety and gang prevention grant Benton Harbor Area Schools got from the state is being used in ways that may surprise you.

“When they have this positive sense of self, there’s no interest in engaging in deviant behavior,” said grant coordinator Rita Seay.

The halls of Benton Harbor’s schools are full again for a new school year.

Seay said she’s on a mission to keep them safe, and see the students that fill them shine.

The district applied for the state grant last year and was awarded it in early spring.

$800,000 of the money is going to building upgrades for safety purposes.

The other $1.2 million is going to things like creative programming and new hires.

Roberto Overton is a professional counselor overseeing a new suicide alertness program being taught in the district.

“It’s a program that will help the community to be more alert for people that have thoughts of suicide,” he said.

Two Benton Harbor High School students who took the training course over the summer said it surprised them.

“It helped us talk to our friends more, like if a person was thinking suicide, take them serious,” sophomore Gershon Clay said. “It’s not a joke.”

“Before the program, I never really gave that much thought to suicide,” said senior Thomel Green. “I knew it happened, but I didn’t know it was this common. I thought it was just on TV, and stuff like that. I knew people did it, but I didn’t know how many people did it.”

And then there’s the ‘Girlz & Pearlz’ after school program, led by certified life coach Trina Wells.

“We like to highlight purpose, character and vision to really help the girls gain a vision and perspective of where they desire to be in life,” she said.

The empowerment program mentors young girls to be confident and map out their dreams on vision boards.

Junior Tamia Clay said the district’s use of the grant money is encouraging, especially for programs like Girlz & Pearlz.

“I have a pretty good level of confidence because I did theater and I was always out and in front of people,” Clay said. “But deep within myself, I didn’t really have the deep self-confidence of myself. And me getting involved in this program has helped me to accept me for me.”

Seay said a lot of the grant money is going toward hiring five new employees at the district – four school-based therapists that will be stationed in the lower schools, and a community liaison who will work on parenting programs and college and career readiness.

She said the goal is to keep students busy and focused on the good, so they’re not distracted by the bad.

There was also a heartwarming event that happened at Benton Harbor High School on Wednesday.

You can click here to learn more about it.

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