Last April, when a request for proposals for funding opportunities from the U.S. Department of Education crossed her desk, Anita Young sat up and took notice. "It focused on recruiting school counselors to address the mental health needs of K-12 students," says the associate professor in counseling and educational studies at the School of Education. "Not only is there a national shortage of school counselors," Young continues, "but the discipline of school counseling has shifted since the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act toward a focus on academic success and career preparation," a change that has lessened mental health advising.
Young teamed up with Norma Day-Vines, an associate dean at the school, to propose a pilot initiative called RESET (Recruit Educate Support Evaluate and Train). Its goal is to create a pipeline for counselors, especially those from diverse populations, to provide mental health counseling for students of high-needs school districts. With a predominantly white cadre of school counselors nationwide—about 80%—serving a majority nonwhite K-12 student body, there's a "need for culturally responsive counseling that is not being served," Young adds. Their pilot was selected to receive a $4.7 million grant.
A Twofold Approach
The pilot program aims to both attract and train a more diverse group of graduate students through accelerated programming and tuition assistance, and to offer current practitioners professional development opportunities in the specific mental health needs of their student populations.
"We want to close opportunity gaps, not just academic gaps," Young says. "We're interested in equipping current and future counselors with the tools to dismantle the mental health issues that students face—the trauma of the pandemic, drug crises, and the many 'isms'—all of which may be impeding their academic success."
At Hopkins, the plan is to financially support and train 51 school counselors over the five-year period covered by the grant. As part of their studies, the cohort of RESET graduate students will examine the mental health needs and gaps at three demonstration public school districts in Georgia, Virginia, and Texas.
Through internships in these districts, students will participate in practitioner training, which will be led by researcher Jodi Miller using tools such as WellCheq, a web-based app she co-developed in 2020 while a doctoral student at Hopkins. WellCheq encourages students to tap into their emotional state by rating their overall well-being on a scale from 1 to 10, providing teachers with insight into their learners via a dashboard or email.
Measures of Success
In evaluating the program, "we'll be attempting to answer questions such as, What is the usability and feasibility of training school counselors?
How has the impact of the training improved the overall mental wellness of students?" Young says. The success of the initiative will also be deter- mined by whether the program produces counselors who more closely reflect and respond to the diverse student populations they will serve.
Since the grant was awarded only last spring, RESET's full impact won't be felt until 2025 and beyond, Young says. "We are actively recruiting now for qualified candidates," she says, "and we're looking nationwide for diverse candidates, specifically from HBCUs." The grant's capacity covers 12 students a year, each of whom will receive 50% tuition reimbursement, internship stipends, and supporting technology to remove the barriers to entry into graduate school.
"The recruitment process is key," Young concludes. "The program will continue to grow, and we know that once we have the people in the room, we can ensure that we have a diverse cadre of future school counselors."