West College of Education recipient of $1.3 million federal grant

Five-year grant to benefit graduate students, Burkburnett ISD

West College of Education recipient of $1.3 million federal grant

Last week, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn announced that Midwestern State University has received $136,863, which is the first installment of a $1.3 million federal grant for the training of school counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals qualified to provide school-based mental health services.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant Program will benefit the Department of Education Counseling in the Gordon T. & Ellen West College of Education. Project School Mental Health is a five-year federal grant that will not only financially support 12 Clinical Mental Health graduate students to help fund their master’s degrees, but also will help students in the Burkburnett Independent School District.

“We are especially grateful to Sen. Cornyn for his leadership to support additional mental health services in our schools,” said MSU Texas Interim President Keith Lamb. “This project will provide important services to our students as well as at-risk populations in our region.”

The program will strengthen the overall school counseling guidance program at Burkburnett ISD, which is considered a high-need, rural school district. Assistant Professor of Counseling Wendy Helmcamp, principal investigator on the project, said that MSU Texas will collaborate with Burkburnett ISD in the innovative school-based mental health partnership which will increase the number and diversity of school or clinical mental health counselors.

Helmcamp said that four Burkburnett ISD schools – I.C. Evans Elementary School, Burkburnett Middle School, Burkburnett High School, and Gateway Alternative Education Center – will benefit from Project School Mental Health.

“The Burkburnett ISD serves a total of 2,213 students. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250 to 1,” Helmcamp said. “Currently, all of the Burkburnett ISD schools are over the recommended ratio. Today’s students struggle frequently with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and would benefit from individualized mental health support by having access to an additional counselor at their school.”

Project School Mental Health school counselor and clinical mental health students will incorporate evidence-based activities, therapy, and techniques, such as mindfulness, cognitive behavior therapy, solution-focused therapy, and art therapy, to address student needs. The project goals are to increase attendance for at-risk students, lower behavior problems and behavior referrals, and to help students improve their overall mental health wellness. MSU Texas will train graduate students extensively in inclusive and culturally responsive practices, ensuring access to services for all students. Participants will conduct individual and group therapy for students who have social, emotional, behavioral needs and require intensive help.

Dean of the West College Leann Curry praised Helmcamp’s work on obtaining the grant. “A grant of this magnitude on the first try is a great accomplishment and will significantly expand school-based mental health services and professionals,” she said.

When Helmcamp received news of the grant, she said she ran the halls of the education department on the third floor of Bridwell Hall at MSU Texas. “I am so excited that I can’t sleep,” she said. “I worked incredibly hard to obtain this grant, and I am happy it paid off. I am grateful to God for giving me this opportunity to make a difference not only for my Clinical Mental Health graduate students, but also for students in Burkburnett ISD. I cannot wait to see the improvements. Students desperately need more mental health support in schools, and this federal grant actually makes this dream possible.”

Helmcamp is currently recruiting graduate students for this project. The Clinical Mental Health program is 60-63 hours and will take three years for participants. Graduate students can take the clinical mental health track or the school counseling track. The program will consist of three cohorts of four students, who will be admitted during Fall 2023, Fall 2024, and Fall 2025. The first two years, students will be trained through online classes. The third year, students will be expected to move near Burkburnett to complete their practicum/internship and to treat their internship as a job, being available to students and onsite every day during school hours.

Graduate students selected to participate will receive assistance with tuition and fees, childcare expenses, background check and testing fees, and a modest salary and transportation assistance to Burkburnett during their third year of internship.

Helmcamp said her goal in applying for the grant was to have a significant effect on people and to change lives in a positive way. “I have always advocated for additional counselors in schools, and now I have received the opportunity to prove what an important role counselors play in helping students succeed,” she said. “I am beyond grateful for all the supportive people in my life who help me reach my potential, including my family, friends, colleagues, Burkburnett ISD partners, and Region 9 partners.”