Newsroom > News > Press Releases > DePaul University earns $4.2 million to prepare school counselors to serve in CPS

DePaul University earns $4.2 million to prepare school counselors to serve in CPS

U.S. Department of Education funds interdisciplinary Project STRIDE to build mental health capacity

Headshot portraits of faculty
DePaul faculty Autumn Cabell, Antonio Polo, Melissa Ockerman, (bottom row) Alexandra Novakovic and Rebecca Michel collaborated on the winning proposal. (Image composite DePaul University)
CHICAGO — DePaul University was awarded a $4.2 million interdisciplinary grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the capacity of school counselors in Chicago Public Schools. The funding supports a program to prepare 96 diverse school counselors through graduate work at DePaul and place them in high-need CPS elementary schools.

Psychology professor Antonio Polo collaborated with College of Education counseling faculty Melissa Ockerman, Rebecca Michel, Alexandra Novakovic and Autumn Cabell to submit the grant earlier this year.

Over the course of the next 5 years, project STRIDE (School-Based Trainee Recruitment and Retention through Innovation and Diversity Enrichment) will offer training and tuition support to DePaul graduate students in counseling who commit to work in a high-need CPS school. 

To enhance their experiences and support CPS students, Polo and colleagues will incorporate the Act & Adapt intervention as part of their school-based mental health services. The evidence-based program teaches students to cope with stress and has become a change-agent in schools.

“Our goal is to address mental health service gaps for low-income African-American and Latinx students in CPS,” said Polo, who teaches in the College of Science and Health. “Bringing together an established program like Act & Adapt and the trusted expertise of school counselors from diverse backgrounds has the potential to make a real difference in the CPS schools that need it most.”

Building mental health capacity

CPS is the fourth largest school district in the United States, and 72% of students are from low-income or economically disadvantaged backgrounds. CPS students are from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, including 46% Latinx and 35% African American. About 1 in 5 CPS students are classified as English learners.

Since COVID-19 began, research has revealed high rates of anxiety and depression, and significant mental health problems, including recent research from Polo that found Latinx youth in CPS were at higher risk of these issues. According to a recent nationally representative survey that included 830 schools, 88% of public schools report that they are not able to effectively provide mental health services to students all students in need. According to Cabell, an assistant professor of counseling, children’s mental health is suffering and diversifying the school counseling field is imperative to meeting diverse students’ needs.

With that in mind, becoming a school counselor in Illinois takes commitment and resources. Students are required to complete a master’s degree, a 700-hour practicum and internship and pass a licensing exam. Selected trainees in project STRIDE will receive tuition reimbursement and a stipend during their practicum and internship placements. Faculty say this support will break down barriers for diverse DePaul graduate students, with the goal to recruit new school counselors whose racial, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds match the high-needs schools they will serve.

“Within the field of school counseling, we know it is increasingly important for students to be able to work with people who share their cultural and linguistic background,” said Rebecca Michel, associate professor of counseling.

Thanks to the established partnership with CPS that has been fostered over many years, many DePaul School Counseling students are placed in CPS schools each year as interns. “Importantly, CPS has already committed that DePaul students who have practicum and internship experience will be connected to jobs at schools, particularly on Chicago’s South and West Sides,” said Melissa Ockerman, associate professor of counseling. “This creates a strong pipeline and helps support students who were committed to that work during their graduate program.”

Aligning DePaul’s mental health experts to support schools
The collaboration between the College of Science and Health and the College of Education opens new possibilities for students, according to Polo and the counseling faculty.

“We are always looking for evidence-based practices and methods to teach our students, and Act & Adapt has been cultivated and researched here at DePaul. It’s exciting we will be teaching our students to be enacting it within CPS,” Michel said.

A school counselor must often address a student’s academic needs and career goals in addition to social and emotional challenges—which can be a large load to carry when there is a shortage of mental health professionals working in schools.

“The racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of CPS students provides an excellent opportunity to serve families of youth who do not have access to care for their mental health problems, and who have historically not received evidence-based services,” Polo said. 

More information about DePaul’s Counseling program is available online.

Media Contact:
Kristin Claes Mathews