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UGA team receives $1.37 million grant to train behavioral health care counselors

Athens, Ga. – University of Georgia College of Education faculty members Bernadette Heckman and Jolie Daigle have received a three-year, $1.37 million federal grant to recruit and train more than 100 UGA master’s degree students in school counseling to help increase access to mental and behavioral health services for children in Northeast Georgia’s K-12 schools.

The program will provide $10,000 stipends to school counseling students in their second year of the two-year program. The admissions deadline for the first cohort is Dec. 1. Review and selection of students will be in February 2015. Applicants to the program will be notified of their acceptance by April 2015 and admitted into the program in summer 2015.

The project will use existing resources and partnerships to provide integrative, primary care plus behavioral health services in schools.

“Not only will our master’s students receive training in school counseling, they will also receive training in integrated behavioral health that will enable our team to contribute to Georgia’s behavioral health workforce and help meet the psychosocial needs of at-risk K-12 youth in the state,” said Heckman, principal investigator of the project and an associate professor and director of clinical training in the department of counseling and human development services.

Today, about 85 percent of Georgia counties are federally designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The disparity of available mental and behavioral health professionals and services results in many children and families not receiving psychosocial services they may need.

Many of the schools targeted in this project are located in the 13 counties served by the Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency, about half of which are in shortage areas. They include Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe, and Walton county school districts as well as Commerce, Jefferson and Social Circle city schools.

Some communities across the state have fragmented mental health care systems, insufficient funding for basic mental and behavioral health services, too few mental health providers, restricted insurance coverage and many barriers to advancing economic and personal well-being, according to Heckman and Daigle.

“School districts typically do not hire behavioral health counselors, but each public school has at least one school counselor,” Daigle said.

“The project could lead to a sustainable model of integrated behavioral health care that can be adopted by other RESAs throughout Georgia,” said Heckman.

Daigle also said that once behavioral health service gaps can be closed, the gaps in academic achievement, school completion and college-going rates would close as well.

Daigle, co-principal investigator of the project, is an associate professor and program coordinator of the master’s in school counseling program in the department of counseling and human development services. She currently serves as Professor-In-Residence with Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency and Rutland Academy, the region’s designated Georgia Network of Educational and Therapeutic Support facility where she coordinates a two-semester academic service-learning program.

The research team includes Georgia Calhoun, a professor, and Laura Dean, an associate professor, both in the department of counseling and human development services in the college, who will assist in student training and the formal evaluation of the project’s large-scale efforts to increase the behavioral health workforce in Georgia.

For more information, see or contact Heckman at