Skip to page content

$1.3M grant will train more school counselors

  |   Michael Childs   |   Permalink   |   News Release

Bernadette Heckman

College of Education faculty members Bernadette Heckman and Jolie Daigle have received a three-year, $1.37 million federal grant to recruit and train more than 100 master's degree students in school counseling who will help increase access to mental and behavioral health services for children in northeast Georgia's K-12 schools.

Seventy percent of the funding for the program will provide $10,000 stipends to each school counseling student in their second year of the two-year program. The admissions deadline for the first cohort is Dec. 1, 2014. Review and selection of students will be in February 2015. Applicants to the program will be notified of their acceptance by April 2015 and admitted into the program in summer 2015.

"This innovative project will use existing resources and partnerships to provide integrative, primary care plus behavioral health services in schools. Not only will our master's-level school counseling students receive state-of-the-science training in school counseling, they will also receive enhanced training in the provision of integrated behavioral health that will enable our team to contribute to Georgia's behavioral health workforce and help meet the psychosocial needs of at-risk K-12 youth in the state," said Heckman, principal investigator of the project, an associate professor and director of clinical training in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services.

Today, about 85 percent of Georgia counties are federally designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas (MHPSA) by the U.S. Department of Health and Humann Services (HHS).

Daigle Jolie

The disparity of available mental and behavioral health professionals and services results in many children and their families not receiving important psychosocial services they may desperately need.Many of the schools targeted in this project are located in the 13 counties served by the Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency (NE GA RESA), about half of which are designated MHPSA. They include Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe, and Walton county school districts as well as Commerce, Jefferson and Social Circle city schools.

Daigle, co-principal investigator of the project, is an associate professor and program coordinator of the master's in school counseling program in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services. She currently serves as Professor-In-Residence with NE GA RESA and Rutland Academy, the region's designated Georgia Network of Educational and Therapeutic Support facility where she coordinates a two-semester academic service-learning program.

Some communities across the state have fragmented mental health care systems, insufficient funding for basic mental and behavioral health services, too few mental health providers, restricted insurance coverage and many barriers to advancing one's economic and personal well-being, according to Heckman and Daigle.

"School districts typically do not hire behavioral health counselors, but each public school has at least one school counselor," Daigle said.

"The project could lead to a sustainable model of integrated behavioral health care that can be adopted by other RESAs throughout Georgia," said Heckman.

Daigle also added: "Once behavioral health service gaps can be closed, we believe that gaps in academic achievement, school completion and college-going rates will close as well."

The COE research team includes Georgia Calhoun, a professor, and Laura Dean, an associate professor, both in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services, who will assist in student training and the formal evaluation of the project's large-scale efforts to increase the behavioral health workforce in Georgia.

© University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602