State Dept. of Education initiative adds over 300 counselors and mental health professionals to schools

OKLAHOMA (KFOR) – Oklahoma schools have seen a boost in staff over the past year thanks to a $35 million initiative.

The move added hundreds of counselors, mental health professionals and clinical social workers to over 175 districts across the state.

“We lead the nation with the levels of children that have experienced trauma,” said State Supt. Joy Hofmeister. “When we realize some of those stories, it would break your heart.”

Hofmeister said the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s school counselor corps. has helped with the stress that trauma puts on kids trying to learn.

“We are seeing real, meaningful gains,” Hofmeister said. “Then we also are seeing the focus as we enter legislative session on continuing what we have built with the school counselor core and expanding that to reach more kids.”

The initiative was launched in 2021 and is paid for by COVID stabilization funding through a school emergency relief fund. It’s now added 201 counselors, 47 licensed mental health professionals, 22 licensed clinical social workers and 3 recreational therapists to 176 districts statewide.

“We are working together to support kids, and this has been a tremendous investment,” Hofmeister said.

Along with the staffing has come programs that different districts created to go with it. Mental health programs and therapy dogs are two examples. The grant will fund the positions through the 2023-2024 school year. Hofmeister said the next step is to extend the initiative beyond that.

“I was talking with a mom who has shared that her teacher and the licensed professional counselor at school has helped her child be able to feel secure,” Hofmeister said. “The evidence is significant in how it impacts children.”

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