OKLAHOMA CITY – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced today a major initiative of the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) recovery plan aimed at addressing students’ social-emotional needs. As part of Ready Together Oklahoma: An Action Plan for Supporting Students Through the Pandemic and Beyond, OSDE will use approximately $35 million in federal relief to help fund hundreds of new positions to school districts through the Oklahoma School Counselor Corps.
“For many years, Oklahoma children have suffered the highest rates of trauma in the nation, and over the past 15 months, they have endured additional trauma from the pandemic. If we are to ensure our students are on track for academic success, we must first take action to wrap supports around the whole child,” said Hofmeister.
Funds from the American Rescue Plan will help fund additional school counselors, licensed school-based mental health professionals, social workers and recreational therapists. Oklahoma’s current student-to-school counselor ratio is 411-to-1, but the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250-to-1.
“Oklahoma schools have long needed more school counselors, and that need is more urgent than ever in the wake of this pandemic. We have made progress in reducing the student-to-school counselor ratio over the past few years, but this initiative marks a dramatic improvement,” said Hofmeister. “We are making our single largest investment of COVID emergency relief funding in the Counselor Corps because we know its impact will benefit students in every corner of our state.”
To participate in the Oklahoma School Counselor Corps initiative, public school districts can apply for a grant with the OSDE to fund approximately 50% of the cost of the salary and benefits of qualified positions, or to contract for eligible positions or services. The grant will fund the positions for three years, or through the 2023-24 school year.
Adding school-based mental health professionals trained in evidence-based practices is a pillar of any holistic approach to student success, according to Carrie Slatton-Hodges, Oklahoma’s Commissioner for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“Far too many of Oklahoma’s children are living childhoods that expose them to traumatic experiences. This fact, coupled with the trauma we all experienced due to last year’s disruptions, underscores how critical it is to better integrate our systems so that fewer children develop mental health problems,” Slatton-Hodges said.
Districts will be required to describe how the new professional services will support the academic, social and emotional needs of students, provide their current ratio of students-to-school counselors/school-based mental health professionals, and indicate the percentage of students who are members of federally protected student groups (low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, migrant students and students in foster care). Multiple research studies show members of these student groups have been most adversely impacted by the pandemic.
To learn more about OSDE’s recovery plan, Ready Together Oklahoma, visit readytogether.sde.ok.gov.
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