OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (KNWA/KFTA) — Oklahoma students will now have more access than ever to counselors and mental health professionals as 300 were added through the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s School Counselor Corps.

According to a press release, schools in 176 Oklahoma school districts have added 201 counselors, 47 licensed mental health professionals, 22 licensed clinical social workers, and three recreational therapists. Schools also have filled 50 mental health positions through contracted services.

The corps, launched in 2021 by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, is a three-year, $35 million initiative supported by COVID stabilization funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

Hofmeister said the School Counselor Corps is bringing much-needed services to schools, some of which have not had a single school counselor in the past.

“This is a crucial investment for our students,” Hofmeister said. “School counselors and mental health professionals play a transformative role in helping students work through adversity, achieve success in the classroom and prepare for life after high school.”

Jenna Jones, executive director of comprehensive school counseling for the OSDE, said some school districts have added new, more creative programs to help their students, including Moore, Mustang and Shawnee Public Schools. Several other districts, including Checotah, Bixby, Morris and Grove, added a therapy dog program to serve students.

Bixby Schools also added a district counseling services coordinator who has reportedly been providing overarching support for counselors, educators, and students from Pre-K through 12th grade. Educators have completed training in trauma-informed practices and Conscious Discipline, an evidence-based self-regulation program.

Also, students have participated in leadership groups, focused on their character strengths, and taken part in a Be Well program. The district also partnered with Tristesse Grief Center in Tulsa to provide grief groups for students in seven of its schools.

Tishomingo Schools Superintendent Bobby Waitman said his district has employed a counselor who is fully dedicated to the many elementary students who have suffered trauma, food insecurities, and a lack of support in the home.

The district also added a college and career readiness coordinator to serve secondary students. Since adding the coordinator, Tishomingo says it has been able to expand its College and Career Ready Program to provide internships with business and industry partners for more than 40 students.

Participating districts applied for grant funding, which covers approximately 50% of the cost of the salary and benefits of the new positions. The existing grant will fund positions through the 2023-24 school year.