Mental Health Service Professional grant recipients Joseph Wharff and Jamey Petersen have maintained successful partnerships in rural communities. Joseph is the Associate Director of the Office of Student Services at the Virginia Department of Education and State Coordinator of the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health, and Jamey is the Coordinated School Health Director for the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
For Jamey, partnerships are essential in a rural state with many isolated communities. The Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) collaborates with The University of Montana and Montana State University to create a pipeline into rural communities and to facilitate connections that decrease loneliness and isolation across the state. These university partners also collaborate with each other to cover a large state landmass, therefore reaching most communities. Without these partnerships, Montana OPI would not be able to provide mental health services to nearly as many schools across the state.
For Virginia, a state with a more even mix of cities and rural communities, partnerships have also been integral in connecting the state as a whole. Joseph and his team have recognized the unique needs of rural communities and stress the importance of cultural humility when creating authentic partnerships. In order to build capacity in rural areas, he reiterates that it is vital not to make assumptions. The Virginia Department of Education also recognizes that while it is important to acknowledge barriers in rural communities, it is just as important to capitalize on their strengths. In their experience, rural communities have closer connections than larger communities and can move resources more flexibly.
Cultural humility resonates with Jamey and her team as well. They prepare graduate students for work in rural communities by providing them with courses, connecting them with liaisons, and participating in site visits to these communities. Students visit rural schools for three days, where they learn to listen to rural-specific needs rather than impose their own assumptions. Curiosity and willingness to learn are their most vital skills.
To learn more about Joseph and Jamey’s partnerships in rural communities, listen to their episode of In Session: Maintaining Successful Partnerships in Rural Communities with Joseph Wharff and Jamey Peterson | National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE)