UTEP to use $ 1.1 million grant to enrich counseling and special education programs


Various traumas experienced by K-12 students in the Paso del Norte area over the past 10 years have prompted Beverley Argus-Calvo, Ph.D., associate professor and administrator at the University of Texas at El Paso, to consider academic solutions.

Argus-Calvo, chair of the Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services at the College of Education, said she had witnessed that some educators did not always have the time, tools or training to help their students with mental health needs.

The UTEP educator initiated a discussion with several colleagues in the department regarding potential interdisciplinary study programs. The U.S. Department of Education awarded the team a five-year, $ 1.1 million grant to fund the training of 48 educators as well as to develop technology-enhanced curriculum to include experiences on field.

The four members of the BLESSED (Bridging Leadership in Education: School counselor and Special Educator Development) project met recently to discuss how they plan to achieve their goals, which also includes creating greater collaborations between counselors. and specialist educators in public schools.

“The support systems available to students in schools are often fragmented,” Argus-Calvo said. “We want to give our (students) the tools to analyze situations as a team for the benefit of K-12 students. Our students have not had access to these interdisciplinary perspectives.

Calvo’s teammates on this research grant are Carleton Brown, Ph.D., associate professor, and Kristopher Yeager, Ph.D., and Anjanette Todd, Ph.D., assistant professors. Yeager and Brown, the grant’s co-principal investigators, fleshed out the concept specifically for the areas of special education and school counselors.

They explained that the first year would focus on planning and recruiting to include focus groups to gather information from special educators, school counselors and administrators as well as parents of students with disabilities to determine what needs to be done. schools need. The team will use this information to develop an improved training model for future counselors and specialist educators to meet the special needs of children in their schools.

The concepts and goals of the BLESSED project are a great opportunity for multi-level collaborations, said Crystal Leggett, a graduate student in school guidance who plans to earn her masters in December 2021. She is involved in K-12 education. since 2005 and spent many years as a special education teacher.

“I believe the goals of the BLESSED project will allow counseling professionals to truly meet the needs of this (special education) population by collaborating with others,” said Leggett, from El Paso who received his bachelor’s degree. in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in specialization. UTEP education in 2009. “Historically speaking, students with diverse needs have been underserved in all aspects of education. The pandemic has only illuminated this harsh reality. It’s time to do better and really support all students.

The Region 19 Education Services Center, which serves El Paso and Hudspeth counties, has recognized the need to prepare specialist educators and school counselors who can work together to implement support systems for multiple culturally appropriate levels to support the socio-emotional learning and mental health of K -12 students. According to the grant application, Region 19 serves approximately 174,000 children. He identifies over 84% as Hispanic, around 50% as English language learners and over 50% as at risk. The Texas Education Agency’s 2019-2020 Texas Academic Performance Report indicates that 20,443 students – or about 11.7% of region 19 enrolled students – had a disability.

Albert Villa, Project Manager and Behavioral Coach for Region 19, said it is important for the University to provide improved training in these areas, as less than half of students labeled as having an emotional or behavioral disorder will graduate. diploma. He is a double graduate of UTEP which obtained his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1992 and his master’s degree in special education in 2008.

“There is a critical need for this type of preparation of teachers and counselors to better understand mental health issues, the barriers that students with emotional or behavioral problems face in and outside the classroom. classroom, and the importance of the student-educator connection as a critical factor. component of student success, ”Villa said.

The grant request referenced a 2020 report that found 6.3 million students aged 6 to 22 nationwide were in the special education category, including many with chronic needs. in mental health. Despite the numbers, few special educators receive the appropriate training to serve these students. Research has also shown that students who receive help with mental health issues will perform better in school and during their transition into society.

The BLESSED project team said the new program would include elements of leadership and foster integrated support systems. Professors in the department have already started to introduce these interdisciplinary concepts into existing study programs.

Brown said the need for additional advisers has become more acute recently due to ongoing border issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and the August 3, 2019 mass shooting in El Paso. He said school counselors with ties to UTEP have asked the University for help. They told him they felt overworked and needed more training. Brown said he and several colleagues were helping wherever possible, but professors in the department felt compelled to do more.

He called this research project the college’s most recent effort to fulfill its mission of understanding the needs of the region, providing its students with the best programming possible, and introducing possible solutions to improve the well-being of the region.

Yeager said the purpose of the grant was to build bridges.

“This grant will fund special educators and school counselors in the El Paso area to join forces to support the mental health needs of students with disabilities in public schools,” he said.

Yeager added that the program will hold a two to three-day summer workshop in 2022 and 2023 for school counselors and special educators to discover the improved tools to help children and learn to collaborate better with each other. The organizers will ask schools to invite a consultant and a specialist educator, and they will limit each workshop to 40 participants. The team’s goal is for participants to return to their campuses and school districts and share what they have learned.

Todd, whose course specialty is academic counseling, said she was excited about the collaborative aspects of this grant. She and Argus-Calvo plan to spend a lot of time on the district campuses that employ the cohort members.

The team will begin recruiting students for cohorts during the spring semester 2022. The first cohort will be launched the following fall.

“Collaboration between special education and school counselors to help meet the needs of students with disabilities just makes sense,” Brown said.

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Marketing et Communication


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