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OPINION: New workforce pipeline helps address Nevada’s youth mental health crisis

Douglas Landaverde
Douglas Landaverde
Katherine Dockweiler
Katherine Dockweiler
Opinion
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Children across the state are currently facing an indisputable mental health crisis, with Nevada’s youth having the ninth highest prevalence of mental illness and the lowest rates of access to care in the nation. Seventy-two percent of those ages 12 to 17 with depression say they did not receive any form of mental health care in the last year, with Nevada ranking last in the country for youth access to mental health services.

This dire situation is happening in the backdrop of vast shortages in school psychologists in Nevada, making it even more difficult for struggling children to receive the help they so desperately need. 

In 2019, then-Gov. Steve Sisolak signed Senate Bill 89 into law, which set recommended guidelines for the number of school-based mental health providers in an effort to address the growing mental health needs for our youth. As a result, the Nevada State Board of Education adopted the nationally recommended ratio of one school psychologist per every 500 students statewide. Despite these recommended ratios, Nevada’s schools only have one school psychologist per every 1,866 students, with more than 700 school psychologists needed to reach the state’s goal, a large workforce gap that crucially needs to be filled.

Nevada State University has taken the lead on addressing this growing crisis with the introduction of a new, three-year Education Specialist in School Psychology Graduate Degree Program. With the first semester of the program launching in fall 2024, students will be able to learn from highly qualified professors and working professionals, following the standards outlined by the National Association of School Psychologists.

Through a partnership with the Clark County School District, students will be getting real-world experience in local PreK-12 schools, with guaranteed practicum and internship placement across the Las Vegas area. Nevada State University will also be providing field opportunities at the Nevada State University Early Childhood Education Center and the Nevada State University Psychoeducational Mental Health Clinic to help give students the connections and expertise they need to help fill critical shortages in school psychology roles across the state.

With children’s mental health on the line, the university wanted to make the education specialist in school psychology degree as flexible and accessible as possible for students from any walk of life. This thinking went into the development of the ARTERY Pipeline Framework, a career and educational pipeline that provides numerous pathways for college students, post-baccalaureate students and high school students to begin their journey toward their education specialist in school psychology degree without educational barriers standing in the way. As long as you have a 3.0 GPA, a bachelor's degree (in any field) and an interest in making a difference in children’s lives, the program will help you achieve your aspirations while also filling a critical need in our schools.

This much-needed workforce pipeline is made possible by a five-year $1.2 million Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration grant that Nevada State received from the U.S. Department of Education. As a result, the first four cohorts of students pursuing their education specialist degree in school psychology will be eligible for scholarships and internship stipends, as well as costs associated with fingerprinting and state licensing, further lowering the barrier of entry for students who may need extra support in starting their educational journey.

Federal funding such as this is crucial if we want to meet the large disparity in mental health professionals in our schools, and it’s encouraging to see greater federal investment being allocated to innovative workforce pipelines.

Last year, President Joe Biden called for a new $1 billion investment to hire mental health professionals in schools across the country, citing the rising trend of teen depression and highlighting the workforce shortages seen in Nevada and across the country. 

This is an issue that will require continuous engagement from policymakers, educational leaders and key stakeholders if we want to reverse the trend of declining youth mental health. With only the second Education Specialist in School Psychology Graduate Degree Program in the state, Nevada State University will continue to be a leader for high-quality education and innovative programs geared toward addressing workforce shortages, as well as making a real difference in the lives of our future generations.

Douglas Landaverde is a nationally certified bilingual school psychologist. He has served in multiple school districts in California and Nevada for over 20 years. Landaverde has also served as a part-time instructor and collaborated to develop a school psychology program at Nevada State University.  He is currently serving in the Clark County School District.

Katherine Dockweiler is a policy researcher and assistant professor of school psychology at Nevada State University. She is vice president of the Nevada State Board of Education and received a certificate of appreciation award from the National Association of School Psychologists.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].

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