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UTSA partners with Southwest ISD to address school psychologist shortage and mental health needs

More than 20 eligible UTSA graduate students will go through in-the-classroom training at various Southwest ISD schools over the next five years.

SAN ANTONIO — Southwest ISD and UTSA have teamed up to create a talent pipeline while addressing mental health needs among students. 

“Every district is struggling with finding school psychologists,” said Dr. Albrey Hogan, Southwest ISD’s special education director.  

Southwest ISD, a district with more than 13,000 students, currently employs 11 school psychologists.

“It is an area that most of us are having to contract services,” Hogan said. “Even our roles have really evolved, especially coming out of the pandemic. Really, what we’re looking at now is a lot more mental health concerns where it is very much about the trauma that they’ve experienced, the isolation that has occurred so they’re really having to work on social skills that maybe we didn’t have to teach before.”

Hogan noted the national average indicates there should be one psychologist to 500 students but at Southwest ISD the ratio is between one to 900 and one to 1000. 

Associate professor of psychology Victor Villarreal is among five UTSA faculty spearheading the federally funded partnership. Through Project BEAMS, nearly $4 million in grant funds will provide mental health training for more than 20 graduate students over five years. Coming out of the pandemic especially, Villarreal recognized some of the ongoing mental health impacts among young people. 

“As far as the need we’re seeing increases in internalizing issues, depression, anxiety, behavior concerns,” Villarreal said. “The main goal here is to increase the number of really well-trained school psychologists that we’re placing into schools and then to also increase the number of school psychologists that are employed in high-need districts.”

In-the-classroom training will offer endless learning opportunities while addressing the desperate demand to care for the mental health of future generations. 

“For us, by bringing in additional people it does shrink that ratio for us to be working with students, but it also gives us an opportunity to really lay the foundation for the students at UTSA so that they understand what does it look like to work in a school, what would your workload look like, how would you engage students.” 

The first group of graduate students will begin training at various Southwest ISD campuses in the summer. 

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