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Education

School Counselor Corps Will Place Hundreds of Mental Health Workers Around Oklahoma

When mental health professionals don't take insurance, only the wealthy can afford their help.
Joe Houghton
/
Getty Images
When mental health professionals don't take insurance, only the wealthy can afford their help.

Hundreds of school counselors and mental health professionals will be hired by schools across Oklahoma for the next few years thanks to $35.7 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan.

The counselor corps will be made up of 222 counselors and almost 100 other student well-being workers in 181 Oklahoma school districts.

The goal is to improve wellness for students around the state in an effort to promote broader learning.

Big winners include Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Broken Arrow and McAlester, who will each receive more than $1 million over three years. But smaller districts will reap the benefits as well.

One district that will benefit is Grove Public Schools, which will receive $573,000.

Grove superintendent Pat Dodson said that the money will pay for five counselors at each school in the district, as well as a social worker who will work across each site. That will essentially double the counseling workforce in the district, he said.

“We’re just doing all that we can to support our students, because if they’re not in the right place mentally, the academics just don’t happen,” Dodson said.

But there are still some challenges to come, Dodson said. In the past, Grove has had a tough time finding qualified people to take on the counselor role.

Now, the district will implement a statewide search and will use an emergency certification process if necessary to get counselors hired, he said.

“Finding certified counselors, really certified anybody [teachers], is a challenge right now,” Dodson said.

State schools superintendent Joy Hofmeister told educators during a virtual conference last week that the program will lay the foundation for full learning recovery after the pandemic.

“If we are to encourage our students to be on track for academic success, we must first take steps and action to wrap supports around the whole child,” she said.

Counseling and mental health services are severely lacking statewide. Oklahoma’s current student-to-school counselor ratio is 411-to-1, but the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250-to-1, according to the state department of education.

The grants will pay for half of a position for the next three years. Districts are required to make up the difference.

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