The Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health aims to increase the quantity and quality of school mental health services in high-need communities. To do this, they provide a suite of professional development experiences which include tele-mentoring groups using the Project Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) model. ECHO meetings occur virtually once per month and involve university faculty members and practicing school mental health professionals from partnering school districts. Each ECHO follows the same structure: introductions of all group members, a brief didactic training on a topic related to school mental health services presented by a faculty member, and a case presentation from a practitioner. The case presentation provides the practitioner with consultation from ECHO participants about an issue related to student mental health. These training experiences are thought to increase practitioners’ knowledge about how to promote student mental health.
The virtual format of the ECHO meetings increases accessibility and can reduce both time and financial constraints while emphasizing a collaborative, on-going relationship development between researchers and school staff. The ECHOs were designed to be responsive to local mental health needs that partner school districts are experiencing. Thus, it has the potential to address the challenges presented by traditional professional development opportunities and may help expand access to knowledge about evidence-based school mental health services.
The Virginia Department of Education collaborated with The University of Virginia and school district partners to identify participants. They met with identified participants over the course of several weeks to identify the most pressing mental health concerns in schools and districts to tailor the ECHO sessions specifically to meet their needs. In addition, they recruited faculty with extensive experience in school mental health service delivery (either through direct service or research). After each ECHO, feedback is solicited from participants about the relevance and applicability of the session and is used to plan future ECHOs.
One of the most important lessons learned is the importance of establishing genuine partnerships and collaboration among all partners. Participants report feeling that they have a voice in the content of the training which helps ensure relevance to their practice. In addition, ECHO sessions facilitated participants’ understanding of interdisciplinary service coordination and fostered a sense of belonging and community. A second lesson, especially important during the ongoing pandemic, is the importance of providing relevant training opportunities that bridge the research-practice divide. Participants reported that the case-based learning approach of ECHO helped contextualize and apply evidence-based strategies to real-life practice. In fact, ECHO participation increased practitioners’ engagement and satisfaction with supplemental training activities (for more information, see Lyons et al., 2022). Although further research is warranted, these positive outcomes were observed, in part, because the ECHO model responds to the mental health training needs of school staff in real time.
From here, the University of Virginia is expanding the use of facilitating ECHO sessions with school mental health providers in seven additional school districts in Virginia through an expanded partnership with the Virginia Department of Education.
Lyons, M.D., Taylor, J.V., Zeanah, K.L., Downey, S.K., & Zabek, F.A. (2022) Supporting School Mental Health Providers: Evidence from a Short-Term Telementoring Model. Child and Youth Care Forum. Online first. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10566-022-09673-1