By Sean Savage
Mental health is a pressing issue at colleges across the country. Springfield College was recently awarded a $3.29 million grant to train counselors to help address that need.
The U.S. Department of Education awarded the grant to the Department of Counseling. Springfield was one of 60 recipients of an estimated 300 applicants. The department had an innovative plan, written by chair Allison Cumming-McCann – to partner with Americor, and the Springfield and Holyoke public schools (K-12,) – that helped its submission stand out.
“The goal is to get our students trauma- and evidence-based training, but we are also going to collaborate with these two districts to train current employees,” said school counselor Kelley Paige.
The idea was a two-way street. The first was to diversify the counselors on Alden Street and strengthen returning counselors.
“What is extremely important when you are working in a community like Springfield and Holyoke is for students who see counselors who represent themselves,” Paige said. “It is important for repertoire, trust and building a community that is really beneficial for the students and families to see.”
Secondly, the local school’s aspect is to create a pipeline by working with particular students who want to get into a helping field – from mental health inclinations to becoming a school counselor or rehab counseling.
“We will provide them with a little bit of mentorship,” Paige said. “We will show them what it will look like coming from high school to here for their masters and help them find a path to bring them back to Springfield College.”
Coupled with this, the Department of Counseling will add Spanish courses to bring in more linguistically diverse counselors.
“A lot of the families we work with in Springfield and Holyoke are Spanish-speaking. If we can train Spanish-speaking counselors here at Springfield College, it is only going to be a benefit,” Paige said.
The grant will also aid in the department reaching out to a community of people that would otherwise not have been able to come to Springfield – for financial and other outlying reasons. The grant lets the department offer money for students to return to Springfield despite a few rocky financial years due to COVID.
“The program is incredibly strong, taught by really brilliant professors who are in the field and get the work, and getting this grant and having additional funding to reach that group of people is just super important,” Paige said.
The grant also is a testament to the close-knit community the Department of Counseling strives to be.
Johnny Danahey, a 2021 Springfield College graduate, received funding through the grant.
“It was spectacular in providing an opportunity for our education and supporting us financially,” Danahey said. “It was not only a help from the counseling program, but also it gave us the opportunity to be set up with more success.”
Danahey was a grad fellow for the Physical Education program but then realized he wanted to become a school counselor following graduation in 2021.
“What made me want to come to the counseling program was so I could support students in a way that a normal teacher could not,” Danahey said. “One thing that is interesting about being a school counselor is the ability to be able to advocate for students no matter where.”
Danahey also commented on the achievement of Springfield College being the only institution in Massachusetts to be awarded the grant and beyond.
“It shows that the counseling program wants to give back to the community and shows that humanics aspect that the college solely lives by,” Danahey said.”But also to show that we will have people readily available to provide that trauma and crisis-based lens to the community of Springfield and provide that special support,.”
The grant will allow the department to build a more robust, safer and diversified community.
“We were given an opportunity to be more than what we thought we could be,” Danahey said. “It is very rewarding internally as a person – it has changed me as a person in finding care for people.”
Photo Courtesy Springfield College