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USM’s REACH MS Receives CARES Act Funding

Mon, 01/25/2021 - 13:06pm | By: David Tisdale

A program at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) that helps P-12 schools, juvenile detention centers and group homes in the state with positive behavior supports recently received federal funding to support its work.

Realizing Excellence for ALL Children in Mississippi (REACH MS), housed in the USM School of Education, was awarded an approximately $149,000 CARES grant for the Implementing Social-Emotional Learning through Effective, Collaborative Teams (iSELECT) project through appropriations coming from the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. iSELECT is designed to provide training, support, and curriculum materials for the implementation of evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL) standards and curricula in Mississippi, as well as dramatically increase access to free, online training by all P-12 personnel to address the stressors magnified by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

REACH MS is backed by a federally-funded State Personnel Development Grant awarded to the Mississippi Department of Education and operated through a cooperative agreement with USM. Since its inception in 2005, it has primarily focused on K-12 positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), which it later extended to include juvenile detention centers and group homes. Early childhood PBIS, PBIS for students with significant disabilities, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are more recent initiatives.

The principal investigator for the iSELECT grant is Dr. Hollie Filce, director of REACH MS and a professor and coordinator of special education programs, joined by co-principal investigators Dr. Brittany Herrington, Kasey Keith and Selina Merrell.

Beginning in March and continuing through July 2021, REACH MS is providing free training through iSELECT on evidence-based SEL practices to anyone who wishes to participate, purchasing evidence-based SEL curricula for 50 schools, and offering follow-up support to these schools in order for them to begin school-wide SEL implementation. Schools that have not purchased an SEL curriculum and whose leadership teams have completed or will complete the SEL training may apply for the purchase of an approved evidence-based curriculum and follow-up support for implementation. Schools that receive Title I funding are prioritized for selection.

According to Dr. Filce, the project will begin with a self-paced, online SEL professional learning series containing a combination of live and recorded modules for personnel within and outside of the 50 schools selected for implementation support. This professional learning series defines SEL, guides alignment of SEL to other school-wide initiatives, describes the process for implementing SEL school-wide, and introduces Mississippi’s new K-12 SEL standards.

In this professional learning series, an unlimited number of participants can complete the series at no cost; the first 300 people to complete the series will earn free CEUs, SEMIs, or OSLs.

“This series is the state’s first training developed to provide an introduction to, and content on, the K-12 Social Emotional Learning Standards,” Dr Filce said. “Providing the cost of CEUs will serve as an incentive for participation and encourage the expansion of school-wide implementation to additional schools.”

REACH MS will guide participants through creating a school-wide SEL team and selecting an evidence-based SEL curriculum from either The Collaborative on Academic and Social Emotional Learning’s Guidelines for Selecting Evidence-Based SEL Programs or What Works Clearinghouse. The program will also purchase each school’s selected SEL curriculum and facilitate training from the curricula vendors for participants from the 50 schools and REACH MS staff.

Upon completion of this project, program recipients will be ready to begin their school-wide SEL implementation at the start of the 2021-22 school year, with REACH MS providing virtual follow-up support at the start of the 2021-22 school year to assist each school with aligning their selected curricula, the new K-12 SEL Standards, and the evidence-based SEL practices presented in the series.

For more information about REACH MS, visit