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UCA receives a grant from the US Department of Education for $2.2 million



Little Rock, Arkansas – The U.S. Department of Education has given the University of Central Arkansas a $2.2 million grant to help with the dearth of mental health specialists in K–12 schools.

In accordance with a press release, the UCA College of Health and Behavioral Sciences’ school psychology graduate program will use the cash from the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Award to train its students.

The grant’s goal is to increase the number of competent, qualified mental health professionals working in Arkansas’s schools.

The lead and co-investigators are Joan Simon, a professor of psychology, and associate professor Heather Martens.

“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.”

In collaboration with the Conway School District, a grant for five years was given.

The award will assist these field supervisors by funding fellowships for graduate students in the school psychology program at UCA who will collaborate with district school psychologists and counselors.

“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.”

Martens and Simon used the grant money to demonstrate how school psychology specialists frequently have heavy caseloads of evaluations for special education purposes, which restricts their capacity to offer mental health treatments. The funding intends to increase cultural diversity among graduate program students as well as future professionals’ capacity, particularly in high-need schools.

In order to accomplish this, the program is collaborating with Little Rock’s historically Black Philander Smith College, according to a news release.

“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.”