Pot money helps Jefferson County schools hire new nurses, specialists

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- Leaders of Jefferson County Public Schools are using marijuana money to help them steer kids away from lighting up.

Some of the cash going into cash registers to purchase marijuana is now being used by the school district.

“We really had to fight hard for what we got,” said Julie Wilken, the district’s director of health services.

An $800,000-a-year state grant-- for three years-- has allowed the district to hire three new school nurses and six social and emotional learning specialists.

The nurses are not just handing out medications and taking temperatures. They’re putting their skill set to use in classrooms to encourage children to stay away from marijuana, according to Wilken.

Lakewood, Jefferson and Wheat Ridge high schools now have these special nurses working to see attendance increase and drug expulsion rates decrease.

While statistics for the program aren’t available just yet, the district says it has anecdotally seen positive results.

“We’ve had multiple parents write to us telling us how much their nurse has made a difference,” Wilken said.

High school students aren’t the only ones benefiting. The six social and emotional learning specialists have been assigned to elementary and middle schools throughout the district.

Each specialist is responsible for two schools. They’re tackling drug prevention education before drugs even become an issue, according to Wilken.

“We believe if we start helping kids and assisting them in making good decisions -- at a young level -- like in elementary school … they will make better decisions in the later years,” Wilken said.

Jefferson County Schools has already enjoyed a year of the grant money. The district says it has a plan in place to keep the nurses and specialists employed after the grant money runs out.

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