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UND awarded $6 million to train school counselors for rural schools

Program will address critical shortages in Indigenous and small-town schools

The College of Education & Human Development at UND prepares today’s teachers for tomorrow’s schools. Photo by JLG Architects, Grand Forks.

The College of Education & Human Development at the University of North Dakota has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to address critical school-based mental health needs in North Dakota. The award of $6 million over five years primarily will be allocated for the education and training of school counseling and mental health professionals who serve Indigenous and/or rural communities.

Katherine Nelson, an assistant professor at UND in Counseling with a K-12 School Counseling Emphasis, is the primary awardee of the grant funding. A former school counselor herself, Nelson can attest to the critical need to recruit and hire qualified school counselors.

“This money will enable collaborative support for school counselor training, work, and increased training and professional development, particularly in our Indigenous, First Nation, American Indian and rural school communities throughout North Dakota,” she said.

Kristen Votava, associate professor and director of Early Childhood Education, and Tanis Walch, associate professor of Public Health, are also recipients of the grant.

One objective of this grant will be to provide additional funding for the continued expansion of the “School Health Hub,” an interdisciplinary collaboration with Grand Forks Public Schools that provides school-based accessible counseling, public health and additional early childhood intervention services. Viking Elementary School has hosted the pilot of this program for two years; with this funding, the School Health Hub will expand to Lake Agassiz, Wilder and Winship Elementary Schools, as well as Valley Middle School for the next four academic years.

Another objective of this grant is to fund the education and preparation of 36 school counseling students in UND’s M.A. Counseling program. The grant will provide up to $81,000 per student to cover tuition, licensing, professional development and fees. In consultation and collaboration with Indigenous, First Nation and American Indian educational leaders, funding will prioritize individuals who are already licensed teachers working in North Dakota Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) or public tribal/reservation K-12 schools. Secondary prioritization will be given to licensed teachers in rural underserved school communities who will be eligible to work as provisionally credentialed school counselors in their local schools.

Nelson is eager to begin the work of expanding mental health services within North Dakota schools. “We look forward to these grant-funded opportunities being a replicable model for our state, region and nation to better meet the unique needs of school communities,” she said.

The program will fund 18 students who can begin their program in summer 2023, and another 18 who can begin their program in fall 2023. Those interested must apply to UND’s M.A. Counseling program (with a School Counseling Emphasis). For more information, contact Nelson at k.nelson.1@UND.edu.