The University of Denver (DU) Morgridge College of Education (MCE) Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE) will be expanding its work in rural communities with the addition of a new grant-funded initiative through the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) Plan into Action Grants. CRSHE’s goal with this initiative is to create a robust rural school mental health workforce in order to meet the mental health needs of rural students and provide classroom teachers with the support they need by increasing the number of mental health professionals placed in rural schools. MCE will work with state and community partners in southeast Colorado to build and sustain a rural school mental health workforce that can alleviate some of the pressures classroom teachers face in trying to meet those students’ emotional needs. The University anticipates that teacher retention rates will increase as a result of teachers feeling more supported in the classroom.
CRSHE director, Dr. Elaine Belansky, has been working in rural schools in Colorado for 19 years. While new to DU, Belansky is not new to challenges faced by rural communities.
“I have been working with rural school districts since 1999 and what’s striking to me is that in the past few years, every rural school district our team works with has named student mental health as a top concern,” Belansky said. “We don’t have enough school mental health professionals to meet the needs of rural students and classroom teachers are under a lot of pressure to teach content and meet the mental health needs of their kids. This grant gives us an opportunity to address these challenges.”
The $123,950 grant will allow Belansky and her team to partner with the Colorado Rural Education Collaborative and two Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to create strategies aimed at increasing the school mental health workforce across underserved areas of the state. The grant consists of three components:
- Conduct an immersion in Southeast Colorado for school mental health graduate students
- Develop a statewide Professional Learning Community for school mental health professionals via ECHO DU
- Create a hiring forecast that includes cost-effective, innovative strategies to meet rural school mental health workforce demands
The long-term goals and impact of the grant are to see an increase in the rural school mental health workforce, increased teacher retention rates, and increased mental health of rural students. The 12 month grant period begins fall 2018.