A grant from the U.S. Department of Education will help Troy University’s Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation and Interpreter Training address the critical shortage of mental health counseling services in area school systems.
The 5-year, $1.132 million grant, awarded from by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools, will provide scholarship funds for graduate students within five partner local education agencies (LEAs) interested in pursuing careers in school counseling. Those partners include school systems in Montgomery, Crenshaw, Coffee, Geneva and Macon counties.
“The Trojan School-Based Mental Health Counselors Initiative will allow graduate students to earn master’s degrees in school counseling at no cost,” said Dr. Kerry Palmer, Dean of TROY’s College of Education. “Access and costs are two of the primary barriers to advanced degree obtainment. TROY’s flexible program delivery model, which has been honed and improved over the last several decades, will provide the perfect complement to this scholarship.”
Dr. Palmer said providing mental health care services to young people is more important today than ever before, and this grant will aid in that process.
“The Troy University Counseling Department is committed to expanding access to professional degrees in the increasingly important field of mental health counseling,” he said. “This country is experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis, and Alabama is, by no means, immune to this. School systems in rural Alabama find it especially difficult to staff their schools with the mental health professionals needed to meet the current situation. This grant with its tangible financial resources will help to change that. Never has it been more important to make mental health care available to our young people.”
Dr. Sherrionda Crawford, Chair of TROY’s Counseling Department, said the grant team will work collaboratively with the school systems to identify scholarship recipients, who will in turn commit to working within the system for three years.
“We are thrilled to be able to offer this scholarship opportunity to at least 30 school counseling students,” Dr. Crawford said. “These students will come from the five local education agencies. Within the five LEAs that will receive these services, approximately 40,000 students will be impacted. Those individuals will, in turn, provide three years of employment to that specific LEA, so not only do they earn a master’s degree in school counseling, become a certified school counselor and apply for licensure as a Professional Counselor, they will also have employment for the next three years. And, our partner LEAs will have school-based mental health professionals in their schools for the next three years.”
Dr. Samantha Booker, Assistant Chair of the Counseling and Coordinator for both the School Counseling and Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Certificate programs at TROY, said that the partner agencies were selected based on various demographic thresholds, as well as the systems’ current counselor-to-student ratios.
“We wanted to be very particular to partner with systems that identified as Title I Schools, had larger numbers of minority students, had large numbers of students with identified disabilities, students with limited English proficiency, homelessness, and current school counselor to student ratio that did not meet the recommended criteria,” Dr. Booker said. “The American School Counseling Association believes that we should have a 1 to 250 ratio of school counselor to students. In the LEAs that were selected, the lowest ratio was a 1 to 365 with the highest system having a ratio of 1 counselor to over 670 students.”
The scholarship recipients will be enrolled in TROY’s master’s degree program in school counseling, but will also receive some additional training with regard to mental health counseling.
“They will be part of our 60-credit hour school counseling program that is already established and CACREP (Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) accredited,” said Dr. Korinne Babel, Clinical Director for the Counseling Department. “Additionally, these students will be required to take our Introduction to Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health course so that we are building the foundation of these future school counselors as mental health providers from Pre-K all the way through high school. The goal is to start the foundation and awareness of mental health needs of children before they even get to the school setting.”
Tuesday’s announcement of the grant served as a launch for the new initiative, and Dr. Crawford said the grant team would soon begin to collaborate to the partner Local Education Agencies to select scholarship candidates.
“As educators, we see the mental health concerns and the impact they have on attendance, grades, emotional intelligence and behavior,” Dr. Crawford said. “We all know that if students are not in school, they cannot learn. If they are dealing with emotional and behavioral concerns in a classroom, not only is it disruptive to their learning but also to the learning of other students within the classroom. It is important that they receive the mental health services as early as possible, and we are grateful to have the opportunity through this grant to help address these needs.”