University of Central Arkansas

UCA earns $2.2 million grant from USDE

Conway Institute of Music

Partnering with local schools to address shortage in mental health professionals

CONWAY—The University of Central Arkansas has been awarded a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help address the shortage of mental health professionals in K-12 schools.

The Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration grant funding will be used to train students in the school psychology graduate program in the UCA College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. The purpose of the grant is to expand the pipeline of high-quality, trained mental health providers in Arkansas schools.

Heather Martens, associate professor of psychology, and Joan Simon, professor of psychology, serve as the principal and co-investigators.

“The grant training will position future school psychologists to be integral members of school mental health teams and will move Arkansas into the 21st century in terms of the expanded role of the school psychologist,” said Martens. “The timing on this grant could not be better with the Arkansas legislature considering legislation that would require mental health screenings for all public school students.”

UCA Campus Photo
UCA Campus Photo

The five-year grant was awarded in partnership with the Conway School District. The grant will fund fellowships for graduate students in UCA’s school psychology program who will work with school psychology specialists and school counselors in the district, as well as provide support for these field supervisors.

“The Conway School District and the UCA school psychology program began building our relationship two years ago around innovative practicum experiences for UCA students. We have watched the relationship grow into this grant partnership so that additional support will be available to our district students,” Kelli Gordon, special education director for Conway Schools. “Together we will train pre-service School Psychology Specialists on best practices in a school setting.”

In securing the grant funding, Martens and Simon explained that individuals working as school psychology specialists often carry large caseloads of evaluations for special education purposes which limits their ability to provide mental health services. The grant aims to improve future professionals’ capacity, particularly in high-need schools, as well as to increase the cultural diversity among the students in the graduate program.

To achieve this goal, the program is also partnering with Philander Smith College, a historically Black college in Little Rock.

“Students deserve to be served by professionals with whom they can relate, especially when it comes to a provider of mental health services,” said Simon. “Increasing the diversity within the profession of school psychology is vital to the future of our profession and the health and wellness of all students.”

Fellowship recipients will be chosen from those students who have been accepted to UCA’s school psychology program. For two years, recipients will be in high-need Conway elementary schools and assist school staff in improving both their process for identifying students in need of mental health support and their delivery of needed services to such students. During their internship year and for three years following the completion of their graduate program, these recipients will continue to provide school psychology services to K-12 students in high-needs schools.

Visit the program webpage to learn more

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