New $6M grant to expand mental health services in Madison schools

By WCER Communications

Answering local needs amid a national emergency, UW−Madison faculty members and their partners in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) will use a new, $6 million grant to expand culturally responsive mental health services in Madison schools.

The goal is to prepare a new generation of school psychologists equipped with the knowledge and skills to better serve children and youth in MMSD. The project is designed to train 24 new school psychology graduate students from diverse backgrounds over the next five years, and then return them to the community to work.

“I am thankful for the ongoing partnership we have with MMSD that makes this grant a reality,” says Katie Eklund, an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology and a researcher with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER). “Together, we will recruit and train school psychologists from diverse backgrounds that reflect the community, identities, races, ethnicities, abilities, languages, and cultures reflected in Madison schools. We are excited to provide additional training on culturally responsive mental health services to current and new school psychologists.”

The new grant from the U.S. Department of Education provides funding to recruit and train 24 new school psychology graduate students, with an emphasis on recruiting students from minority backgrounds. Six graduate students will be enrolled in each of the first four years of the project, and each of those students will complete their practicum and internship training in MMSD. Upon graduation, they will each be required to complete three years of service in a high-needs, local school.

The grant team also includes MMSD Director of Mental Health Services Kristen Guetschow and Melanie Salgado, the district’s lead school psychologist, as well as Department of Educational Psychology associate professors Steve Kilgus and Andy Garbacz, and Kristy Kelly, a clinical associate professor.

The grant team is, from upper left, Kristen Guetschow, Melanie Salgado, Katie Eklund, Steve Kilgus, Andy Garbacz, and Kristy Kelly.

“We are thrilled to partner with UW in this effort,” Guetschow says. “We recognize schools as often being central in the support of students and families in their well-being, and the multitude of stressors affecting well-being in this moment. Training additional school professionals to provide high-quality, culturally relevant support is timely to support our current school staff engaging in this critical work each day.”

MMSD, the state’s second largest school district, currently enrolls 25,593 students in 52 schools. Student enrollment is 40 percent white, 24 percent Hispanic, 18 percent African American and 10 percent multi-racial. The district now employs 46 school-based psychologists and three district-wide substitute school psychologists.

A decade ago, national research indicated one in five youth experience a mental health concern requiring intervention. And since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the country have seen an increase in mental health concerns among their students. These factors have led to a declaration of a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health with a call for expanded school-based mental health care by the American Academy of Pediatrics and two other national child and adolescent health care organizations in 2021.

In May 2022, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reported that 70 percent of public schools saw an increase in the percentage of their students seeking mental health services at school since the start of the pandemic, with 76 percent of schools also reporting an increase in staff voicing concerns about their students showing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma.

At the same time, 88 percent of schools did not strongly agree they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need. Limitations identified were three-fold: not enough mental health professionals to manage the school’s caseload, inadequate access to licensed mental health professionals, and inadequate funding.

Schools are uniquely positioned to provide mental health services to youth as they reduce barriers to treatment, such as limited access to health insurance or transportation. School-based mental health services have been shown to yield multiple positive outcomes for children, including improved academics, engagement at school, and student well-being.

To address limitations locally, the new grant program will train the new school psychology graduate students in evidence-based, school mental health practices that best prepare new school psychologists and their school psychology supervisors to engage in culturally and linguistically inclusive and identity-safe environments for students.

“We believe that this grant will allow for a gain in services through having high-quality school psychology students training in our schools, by increasing the diversity of our hiring pool and school psychologist team over time, and by creating a pool of applicants which will allow us to fill all our school psychology positions and avoid having vacancies,” Guetschow says.

Specifically, the grant will provide tuition, fees, a monthly stipend, transportation, and childcare costs for new school psychology trainees, plus funding to hire a full-time school psychologist to supervise practicum and internship training. Grants funds also will provide a stipend to site-based school psychology supervisors in high-needs schools.

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