Professors Awarded U.S. Department of Education Grant

Vermont State University Professors Awarded U.S. Department of Education Grant to Address Shortage of K-12 School-Based Mental Health Providers

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a five-year, $820,000 grant to two Vermont State University faculty to help address the shortage of K-12 school-based mental health providers.

Dr. Maureen Stewart, director of the Johnson-based school counseling graduate program, and Dr. Lacy Skinner, faculty in the school psychology graduate program based at Castleton, worked together with Lamoille North and Addison Northwest School Districts to develop and submit a proposal for a Mental Health Service Professional (MHSP) Demonstration Grant. The funding from the Department of Education will provide financial support for eligible graduate students who will then work as school psychologists or school counselors in high-need school districts in Vermont after graduation.

“There is a significant shortage of school counselors in Vermont and nationwide,” Dr. Stewart said, “so we are thrilled to get this funding. It will enable us to better support graduate students who will then go on to work in Vermont schools.”

This financial support is available to graduate students beginning fall 2023; the grant runs through calendar year 2027.

“Currently, there aren’t enough students in our program to fill all the gaps in Vermont K-12 schools,” Dr. Skinner added. “Expanding the opportunities we can provide will really benefit our students and the communities where they will work.”

The funding will allow Vermont State to significantly increase the number of paid internships it offers, as well as provide tuition assistance and even pay for childcare for students who might need it to allow them to intern full time. “Very few school districts pay for interns,” Dr. Skinner explained, “and now we can provide more full-time, paid internships across all Vermont districts. It will help us recruit more students and will make our graduate program more accessible.”

The grant stipulates that students who receive funding will commit to working in a Vermont district for a period of time, at least as long as the period of their support. That means a student who receives support for two years will work for two years or more in a high-need Vermont district.

“That’s an important part of the grant,” Dr. Stewart said. “We want more students to come to Vermont State and we want them to stay in Vermont. We also want more students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds who understand and can address the needs of students and families in the underserved communities that need counselors.”

In addition to making its graduate program more affordable, Vermont State is making its classes more widely available through a variety of delivery modalities. “Our partnership,” said Dr. Skinner, “has allowed both of our students to take classes on both campuses through our in-person plus options. A student in northern Vermont who can’t drive to Castleton three times a week can still take classes there.”

Dr. Stewart added, “It’s been great working with Dr. Skinner. We’ve been able to collaborate on this grant living in different parts of the state, and it has energized both our campuses and proved that we really are better together. And now we’re going to be able to provide so many more opportunities for our students and really benefit the state.”