by Emily Mosier
Thanks to a $1.13 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Troy University will be helping educators across Central and South Alabama become licensed mental health counselors.
The money comes from The Office of Safe and Supportive Schools and will provide at least 30 educators in five districts, all of which are located near a Troy campus, with tuition and book stipends to pursue a master’s degree in counseling.
“This country is experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis, and Alabama is by no means immune,” said Dr. Kerry Palmer, Dean of the College of Education. “School systems in rural Alabama find it especially difficult to staff their schools with the mental health professionals needed.”
The program is called the Trojan School-Based Mental Health Counselors Initiative, and it is meant to address shortages of mental health professionals in K-12 education.
According to program director and the Assistant Chair of School Counseling, Dr. Samantha Booker, the districts selected for this program are all Title I schools, chosen based on at-risk enrollment demographics. These schools have a high number of students who are minorities, homeless, in foster care, disabled, or not proficient in English.
“We wanted to be very, very particular,” Booker said. “And the superintendents really wanted to be a part of this and give this opportunity to not only their teachers, but to make sure they are successful and help with this crisis.”
The American School Counseling Association recommends a counselor to student ratio of 1 to 250. The schools chosen have ratios ranging from 1 to 365 and 1 to 670.
In addition to a degree, students in this program will be eligible to become both school counselors and licensed professional counselors. They will also be guaranteed to have three years of employment with the school district that recommends them for the program.
“These agencies are connected to our troy campus, and the students who will likely receive these scholarships likely live in these communities, so they will be impacting their entire communities because this is where they work, this is where they live,” said Sherrionda Crawford, Chair of the Department for Counseling, Rehabilitation, and Interpretive Training.
According to Crawford, Alabama school districts are still recovering from COVID, and this program will help students with attendance, performance, and drop-out rates.
The school districts selected are Coffee County, Crenshaw County, Geneva County, Montgomery Public Schools, and Macon County.