Grantee Highlights

Virginia Department of Education (SBMH) Boosts Retention of School Based Mental Health Providers with Tele-Mentoring Groups

When the Virginia Department of Education (VA DOE) won their first School Based Mental Health (SBMH) grant in 2019, their main priority was to increase the quantity and quality of school mental health services in high-need communities. To do this, they established a suite of professional development experiences which included tele-mentoring groups using the Project Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) model. To learn more about this model, read VA DOE’s previous Grantee Highlight, Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health Uses Tele-Mentoring Groups to Promote Professional Development. 

In year 3 of their SBMH grant, VA DOE has expanded the tele-mentoring groups to go beyond just recruiting school mental health providers throughout Virginia, but also retaining them. 

Retention became a clear need when Virginia’s newly hired mental health professionals reported feeling isolated in the rural districts they served. For many, they were the only mental health provider in their school. With limited resources and support, these providers felt little incentive to stay. Tele-mentoring groups, therefore, became an important connection for these new practitioners.   

The newly hired mental health professionals meet monthly with their mentors, who are referred to as a “hub team” and are made up of school mental health university faculty in counseling, social work, and psychology. The mental health professionals present case scenarios and problems of practice covering timely topics such as differentiating between trauma and disability, advocating for students’ needs, maintaining a supportive and trusting relationship with students while ensuring safety, and more. The hub team and other mental health professionals offer lessons learned and recommendations to their mentees. 

The relationships formed between mentee and mentor go both ways, with the university faculty informing practitioners, and vice versa. Together, they bridge the gap between instructional to practical. With about 30-40 practitioners making up a cohort every year, these providers are supported not only by their mentor, but by each other. 

Retention efforts have proven successful as seen in the SBMH Year 3 Outcomes. According to the data, 339 mental health professionals were retained out of 365, which is about a 93% retention rate.  

Participants of the sessions also report high satisfaction levels. Survey data from tele-ECHO participants in Year 3 indicated that approximately 79% of respondents strongly agreed that “this tele-ECHO session was helpful in developing my skills as a school mental health professional.” Nearly 90% of respondents strongly agreed that “the content of the didactic training was relevant and applicable to my role as a school mental health professional.” 

Participants also had the chance to respond to open-ended questions about their experiences. Some example statements include: 

“I will use these skills in days, months and years to come.”
“I am new in my role and am eager to gain more exposure. It’s great to be in a setting where I can learn from other professionals in the education field.”
“These sessions were SO helpful. Being able to share real life scenarios with feedback and suggestions on how to handle tough situations was invaluable.”
“I enjoyed and understood the information given. I will use it in my counseling field with my students.”

Lastly, Lisa, an ongoing participant of the mentoring groups since their inception, had this to say about her experience: 
“I love the platform that the tele-ECHO sessions are on. The pool of professionals that are a part of this great platform provides an arrangement of expertise. It is a non-threatening space that allows me to grow from others and oftentimes provides me with ideas to address my students, their families and my school needs. In every session so far I have been able to relate to the presenters because I experience the same problems with the students I serve. I am so excited to see the mental health issues of our students addressed in ECHO sessions.”

VA DOE hopes to continue the progress made by tele-ECHO sessions to recruit and retain mental health professionals throughout Virginia.


Year Resource Released

American Institutes for Research

U.S. Department of Education

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