Grantee Highlights

New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) uses SBMH Grant Funds to Establish Expanding Opportunities Project (EOP) to Support High-Needs Youth

The New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) was awarded a School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) grant in 2020 to increase the number and quality of school-based mental health providers in high-need schools. With this funding and in partnership with New Mexico schools, universities, communities, and other state agencies, NMPED has established the Expanding Opportunities Project (EOP) to increase the access to care for school-aged youth in identified communities.  

Need for EOP 
New Mexico has prioritized behavioral health in schools to strengthen the social, emotional, behavioral and academic well-being of all students. Significant challenges to students’ psychological well-being include poverty, substance use (fentanyl) and suicide. Suicide is second only to accidents among causes of death for New Mexico’s youth ages 10-17, and its rate is more prevalent than in any other state.   

Goal of EOP 
EOP aims to recruit and retain SBMH providers to serve particularly rural and frontier communities across New Mexico with a high percentage of at-risk and vulnerable student populations. The project provides funding to support qualified participants who are already (licensed) SBMH providers in New Mexico, and especially graduate-level students who are on the road to becoming licensed professionals. During 2023 the state dedicated an additional $800,000 in COVID-19 relief “ESSER” funds to make similar investments in expanding and retaining the mental health workforce to support K-12 students in the states three largest school districts in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces.  

NM EOP provides tuition reimbursements, internship stipends, loan repayments, post-graduation opportunities, and licensure fees reimbursement for students obtaining a degree that leads to licensure as a school based behavioral health provider.  The reach and provision of these supports has greatly accelerated as the project has hit its stride.  

EOP Progress to Date 
During the third year of its SBMH grant through September 2023 NM EOP provided salary enhancements supporting longevity commitments for 152 professionals, and funds for academic support (n = 72), practica (n = 43) and/or licensing fees (n = 16) for graduate students among five colleges and universities across the state. Cumulatively, 337 individuals had received NM EOP support by the end of that third year. Thirty-one (31) new rural school-based providers have now been hired by participating high-need LEAs, including 26 in grant year 3 alone.  13 new school districts participated in EOP activities in 2022-23, for a total reach into 46 school districts now.     

To support this project, NMPED has established a webpage with information on Funding Requests, Project Activities, Project Partners, Community of Practice, and more. This webpage supports both existing beneficiaries and new applicants.  In addition, a well-attended colloquium event kicking off the 2023-24 academic year in September featured inspiring presentations by practitioners on related to students’ mental health in rural schools, on trauma-informed and other best practices to support students social and emotional learning and development.  A subsequent colloquium event is now being planned for early 2024.   

Impact of EOP to Date 
The impact of these investments in New Mexico’s school-based mental health workforce has already been significant.  In the 5 years preceding the EOP launch, there had been an average of 54 SBMH providers hired each year among those 46 LEAs. By contrast, during the 2022 and 2023 school years those same districts hired a total of 248 SBMH providers hired.  In 2019-2020 the ratio of students to MH professionals had been 153 students per mental health service provider.  In 2022-2023 the ratio was 115 students per mental health service provider.  In other words, there has now been a reduction of 38 students per mental health service provider across the state’s high-need rural school systems since the 2019-2020 school year. 

Importantly, the measured attrition rate had plunged among professionals during recent years as salary enhancements are supporting longevity.  Those 46 school districts had collectively lost an average of 31 practitioners in each of the five years preceding EOP’s launch.  During the 2022-23 school years that comparative number has dropped to only seven.  

Next Steps for EOP 
During Year 4 of its initiative, New Mexico’s EOP leadership team is maintaining and strengthening its partnerships with graduate programs at the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands University, Eastern New Mexico University, Western New Mexico University, and New Mexico State University.  The team is also working to build expanded partnerships among Bureau of Indian Education [BIE] schools and tribal colleges and universities to better support the state’s large population of American Indian students and residents.  

Track the latest news about New Mexico’s Expanding Opportunities Project at the project website.

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