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The School of Education recently received a $2.27 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund a project to increase the number of school counseling graduates working in rural elementary and middle schools across the state.
Helping Heels — Expanding Access to Care and Improving Opportunities for Rural Schools in the Tar Heel State aims to improve the mental health and educational opportunities for students in North Carolina’s rural schools. Led by Dana Griffin, an associate professor in the school counseling program, the initiative sends graduate students to rural communities for yearlong internships. The program also assists students as they seek employment in rural districts. The inaugural cohort of students began working in the program in May.
The project is an accelerated 14-month program where graduate students will take courses over the summer, spring and fall semesters. Most traditional counseling programs are two years.
Griffin’s research indicates schools in rural communities are often in high-need areas and have fewer opportunities, as demonstrated by lower attendance, test scores and more behavioral suspensions. She also emphasized the importance of school counselors and how their role has evolved over the last few years.
“They can be assets in the school that can work to address behavioral problems, as well as academic problems,” Griffin told The Daily Tar Heel.
Manuela Perdomo, a graduate student in the school counseling program, hopes to use her own experiences to advocate for under-represented students in rural schools. She discovered the project when she was applying to schools that offer work in rural areas. Perdomo has worked in many low-income and rural schools in her home state of Georgia and knew the program would fit her needs.
“We need to be making sure that it’s equal for all of our students, not [unequal] just because they live on one side of the country,” Perdomo said. “I really want to make sure that kids are getting the same resources, the same opportunities as other students all across the state.”
The program first places students in counseling theory courses, where they are taught how to apply theories they learn in individual and group counseling settings. They also take classes on how to recognize mental health disorders and work with diverse populations.