BOONE — Appalachian State University, Ashe County Schools and RTI International are collaborating as part of a rural mental health grant over a five-year period that started in October.

The program will receive $2.5 million in total, distributed between the three agencies from the U.S. Department of Education for the “Rural School Mental Health Training and Service Provision in North Carolina” grant proposal.

According to ASU, the grant will support a scaling up of the long-standing partnership between the university and rural K–12 schools in developing and sustaining training sites called Assessment, Support and Counseling Centers designed to serve youth and families in rural North Carolina communities.

According to ACS, it will oversee the program as a whole and work to place clinical counseling and psychology interns in the areas of highest need in Ashe County’s individual schools.

Appalachian State University’s Psychology Department will provide support to Ashe County Schools by training and sending its clinical students for internship hours. And RTI International will collect data from the program and will assist both Ashe County Schools and ASU with needed professional development training based on their data. RTI International is a nonprofit research group based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Jamie Little, veteran teacher and director of student services at Ashe County Schools, will act as the grant project manager.

“The most important benefit of the grant is to provide ready access to effective, supervised mental health services to youth and families in rural Western North Carolina schools who would otherwise go without these much-needed treatments,” said Kurt Michael, project director of the ASC Center and the assistant chairperson of psychology at ASU. “A significant percentage of students in rural schools are at risk of death by suicide, and this partnership will emphasize the implementation and study of effective assessment and management strategies for youth who present with these concerns.”

Appalachian’s initial funds from the grant — $166,665 — cover Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2020, and were allocated through Ashe County Schools, which is expecting to receive $842,586 over the five years. The grant will provide 100 percent funding for the ASC Center in Ashe County, while also funding 33 percent of Little’s salary, who will be overseeing the program, and 80 percent of the salary for the school system’s social worker over the five-year period, according to previous reports.

Michael, along with Angela Quick, director of RTI International’s Center for Education Services, co-founded the original ASC Center at Watauga High School.

The ASC Center is a 13-year partnership between WCS and App State that provides Watauga High School students with mental health services. The center’s featured service is its cognitive behavioral therapy it offers to assist young people who are struggling with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. In the ASC Centers, graduate students from psychology, marriage and family therapy and social work departments at ASU take on small caseloads of referred adolescents as part of the internships and practice required to complete their degrees.

Additionally, the grant will help to deepen pre-professional preparation of Appalachian doctoral students in clinical psychology in hopes of deploying them strategically into high-need schools after graduation. Pre-professional preparation will also include advanced, targeted coursework and practicum training in the provision and study of rural school mental health services.

“Overall, these funded efforts across the key partners will bring much-needed workforce preparation through the Appalachian doctoral program in clinical psychology and essential workforce development in the rural schools of North Carolina for years to come,” Michael said.

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