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A sixth grade class in a small, rural school in the San Luis Valley (photo courtesy of the Center for Rural School Health & Education).

Promoting Youth Well-Being in Rural Schools

Caring for Colorado has awarded a first-time grant of nearly $4 million to support efforts to promote youth, educator, and community resiliency and mental health over the next five years. These efforts, led by the University of Denver’s Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE), will take place in 31 rural and frontier school districts and communities in the San Luis Valley and Southeastern Colorado.

The Center for Rural School and Health Education will work in close partnership with community advisory groups, youth and school staff to shape strategies that support and enhance current work already happening in those communities. This collaborative encompasses several key building blocks, each of which is driven by youth and community. These include promoting family-school partnerships, intentionally supporting the mental health and well-being of educators, creating strategies and identifying resources to reach all students, and ensuring a focus on racial equity across all of this work. 

Efforts are also underway to create an equity advocacy network. “The idea for the network grew from conversations with our school partners and community advisors. Last year, we heard stories about school board meetings in which a few parents shared their strong opinions about not discussing racism or teaching inclusive sexual health education in schools. Those loud voices often drown out the views and beliefs of other families who don’t typically have a voice at the table,” said Elaine Belansky, PhD, director of CRSHE. “We want to create an advocacy network to give voice to students and families who are furthest from power and opportunity and those who might be feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Our hope is that all students, no matter their gender, sexual, or racial identity can enjoy positive mental health and wellbeing.”

To learn more, visit the CRSHE website or contact Elaine Belansky, PhD at

Youth Connections Initiative Expands

New investments from Caring for Colorado and The Denver Foundation are expanding the reach of Youth Connections. The initiative aims to strengthen the capacity of schools to respond to and promote social, emotional and mental well-being for Colorado middle and high school students, particularly those who experience the greatest barriers to feeling connected, supported and engaged.

To grow this initiative and include a third cohort of school districts, Caring for Colorado is investing nearly $1.9 million and The Denver Foundation is providing a grant of nearly $1.7 million from the Colorado Health Access Fund it manages. Caring for Colorado also granted $6 million to launch Youth Connections in 2019 and support the first two cohorts. 

“With most youth spending a significant proportion of their day in school, schools are uniquely positioned to promote the academic development of students as well as their social and emotional growth,” said Caring for Colorado President and CEO Linda Reiner. “With the support of our funding partner, The Denver Foundation, and our implementation partner, Colorado Education Initiative (CEI), schools participating in the Youth Connections initiative are creating environments that are physically and emotionally safe, filled with trust and focused on building social and emotional skills. Youth are taking an active role, working together with teachers, staff, families, and community members to create climate and culture change. Stronger connections are also being established to ensure community resources are readily available to provide care for students and staff.” 

Approximately $500,000 is passed through to each of the participating school districts to support a year of planning and three years of implementation efforts. The initiative also provides educators and schools with the technical assistance and resources they need to create and sustain supportive school cultures. This includes helping to actively engage diverse families and students in informing and developing a supportive school culture, together with a multi-tiered system of support for students and staff who are struggling. 

“One of the biggest learnings from Youth Connections over the past three years is that schools and districts that center relationships not just in spirit, but in structure and resource, better weathered the pandemic, including through important partnership with families,” said Rebecca Holmes, CEI President and CEO. “By centering relationships, Youth Connections boosts the ability of educators to promote hope and help young people build a positive vision for their future. This expansion will significantly impact student engagement and youth mental health across our state.”

To learn more, visit Youth Connections or contact Samantha Olson at

To learn more about our statewide grantmaking, visit our Healthy Youth Focus Area.