Grantee Highlights

Wisconsin School-Based Mental Health Grant Program Grows State’s School Psychologists Workforce

A new online program at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse [UW-L] aims to help address Wisconsin’s extreme shortage of school psychologists.

Working with the Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the U.S. Department of Education through a School Based Mental Health Professionals Grant, UW-L is adding an online program to its traditional program that will allow current teachers to become endorsed as school psychologists while continuing to teach.

Rob Dixon, Director of the UW-L School Psychology Program, explained the new program’s three main goals. First, it addresses the extreme shortage of psychologists who are working to meet the academic, behavior, and mental health needs of the state’s students. Second, it works to curb the growing need to fill positions in rural districts, while keeping teachers in the classroom as they get advanced credentials. Finally, it will help to diversify the field of school psychology within the state.

“Many educators who want to become school psychologists can’t leave their communities and jobs to attend a face-to-face program,” explained Dixon. “This extends UW-L’s reach to put knowledge and skills in the hands of educators who can then make a difference in a child’s life.”

Dixon said the new program is the first in the state — and one of only three in the country — to offer online studies in school psychology designed for full-time teachers.  He expects a lot of interest in the new offering.

“Just recently, I got a call from a superintendent thanking us for the program,” Dixon says. “He said his district has been through seven different school psychologists in eight years. He is looking to this program to provide some stability to his district.”

UW-L’s traditional School Psychology Program typically graduates 12 licensed students a year. Dixon says they get multiple job offers. Most seek positions in urban or suburban locations, he notes, leaving rural districts scrambling. While the impact of graduates from the new, online program is a few years off, Dixon anticipates that an additional dozen students graduating annually will help meet the long-term needs of the state.

UW-L is working with the Wisconsin DPI on the School-Based Mental Health grant to focus on rural districts, prioritize attracting individuals who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the local population, and recruit qualified teachers who will be supported by their school districts in pursuing the school psychology degrees. The first students will begin classes in summer 2022.

The U.S. Department of Education’s School Based Mental Health Professionals Grant Program and DPI are providing critical support for the program’s start-up costs, including $20,000 for tuition waivers during its first year.

Karen Horn, school-based mental health professionals’ educational consultant with the Wisconsin DPI, says UW-L’s program aligns with the U.S. Department of Education grant goals, and is positioned to increase needed school psychologist candidates for schools across Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin was one of seven states awarded a multi-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the recruitment and retention of school psychologists, school counselors and school social workers while also increasing the diversity of these professions so that they are more representative of the students they serve across the state,” noted Horn.

Those accepted into the program will remain in their current teaching positions while taking the online program. They will complete their practice and internship hours in the school where they are currently teaching.

Meredith Thomsen, UW-L’s dean of Graduate & Extended Learning, is coordinating the new online program. She is excited that it’s working to curb the state’s shortage of school psychologists.

“We know that the pandemic has increased the prevalence of mental health issues in our schools,” says Thomsen. “UW-L Graduate & Extended Learning is honored to be playing a supporting role in a program that will help meet that need.”

See the full article at the LaCrosse Tribune:  UW-La Crosse to offer unique program to grow state’s school psychologists | Local News | lacrossetribune.com

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