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UNC-Chapel Hill gets federal grant to train counselors in rural schools

Associate Professor Dana Griffin, UNC-Chapel Hill
Courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education
Associate Professor Dana Griffin, UNC-Chapel Hill

The UNC Chapel Hill School of Education has received a $2.27 million federal grant to help train more school counselors in rural schools. The funding is part of a nearly $100 million investment by the Biden administration in school-based mental health.

Associate Professor Dana Griffin, who teaches school counseling at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Education, applied for the grant. The U.S. Department of Education asked for proposals to help send more mental health professionals to schools in high need areas, and Griffin chose to focus on rural schools.

"There's a lack of mental health professionals out in these rural areas," Griffin said. "So we will be sending our school counselors in training into these rural schools to complete their year-long practicum and internship experiences."

The school counseling program at UNC-Chapel Hill routinely places its graduate students in nearby school districts to train alongside school counselors 3 days a week.

This funding will be aimed at sending students a little farther from Chapel Hill, to elementary and middle schools in Person County and Granville County. In exchange, the students will commit to serving in a rural school upon graduation.

The funding will cover the cost of in-state tuition, a living stipend, and weekly travel costs for 35 graduate students over 5 years. During their internships, the graduate students will lead anti-bullying prevention programs, conduct behavior assessments of students, and assist in counseling students to take some of the load off of over-burdened school counselors.

In North Carolina, the ratio of students to school counselors is 379 to 1, which is greater than the 250 to 1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association.

"If we can lower the caseload numbers by putting more mental health professionals in the school, I believe that we can make a difference," Griffin said.

Graduates of the program will be required to serve as a school counselor in any rural North Carolina school district for at least 2 years.

Editor's Note: The version of this story that aired on the radio used the term "guidance counselors" which is an outdated name for the professionals in the field of school counseling.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org