JANUARY 27, 2023 — School psychology graduate students at UTSA will earn valuable, hands-on experience while providing much-needed mental health services to Southwest Independent School District students through a new partnership between the university and the school district.
A $3.74 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education enabled the partnership between faculty in the College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) and the College for Health, Community and Policy (HCAP) that will serve Southwest ISD students at a critical time. Dubbed Project BEAMS (Behavioral, Emotional and Mental Support), the new initiative creates an innovative school-based mental health partnership that will increase the number and diversity of school psychologists and expand mental health offerings at SWISD.
“Ongoing shortages of school psychologists, coupled with long-term effects of COVID and other stressors, have overwhelmed schools and their ability to address student mental health needs,” said Victor Villarreal, UTSA Department of Educational Psychology associate professor and grant recipient. “We’re excited to partner with SWISD—via Project BEAMS—to create new intensive mental health training opportunities for UTSA students and to expand the pipeline of school psychologists and mental health programming at SWISD at such a critical time.”
The grant from the U.S. Department of Education Mental Health Service Professionals Demonstration program will help pay 25 UTSA school psychology graduate students to participate in the project. Students are eligible for up to $34,000 per year—for up to two years—to help with tuition and fees and for paid assistantships.
School psychologists are trained to recognize when students struggle behaviorally, such as when they have trouble making new friends or communicating well. They then develop supports and interventions that will help students learn better and function better in schools. Providing school psychology students with opportunities to get hands-on experience in schools is vital to their education and career success.
“Not only will this grant provide an opportunity to enhance UTSA school psychologists’ training to work with high-need local educational agencies, incorporating curriculum and workshops on positive youth development and multiculturalism, but this grant will have an immediate positive impact on SWISD, and for me, represents a burgeoning collaboration between HCAP, COEHD, Community in Schools and our local school systems,” said Alan Meca, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and another grant recipient.
UTSA school psychology graduate students will institute a multi-tiered system of support models of mental health and social-emotional programs at high-needs SWISD schools. They also will implement various evidence-based activities meant to help individual students and develop social-emotional learning curricula, mental health cognitive skills programs and positive identity development programs. They will work with Communities In Schools to provide these services.
“School districts need school psychologists, and there’s unfortunately a very small pool of candidates. We want to help grow the field of school psychology, and through this partnership we can help build a strong foundation for those just starting their journey in this field,” said Albrey Hogan, SWISD executive director of special education. “This partnership will allow us to bring in first-year school psychology students and give them an up-close look at what is needed from a school psychologist to support students and teachers to address mental health.”
UTSA is committed to expanding the field of school psychology at a time when schools are seeing an increased demand for licensed psychologists who specialize in working with children. COEHD added a doctoral degree program in school psychology that will launch in the fall, the first program of its kind in the area that meets a pivotal need for advanced training for students.
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