UK and FCPS Fellowship Program Partnership Shows Impact After First Year

School Social Work Fellowship helps equip FCPS employees to deal with growing mental and behavioral health challenges among students.

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Story by Emily Houp and Breanna Williams.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 30th, 2024) — As the number of young people diagnosed with mental and behavioral health conditions grows, school systems across the country are faced with the challenges of addressing complex student needs. Often, mental and behavioral health professionals can struggle to adequately address those needs and finding the time and resources to get professional development can be challenging.  

But, a unique partnership between the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW), College of Education (CoE), and Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) is helping to address those challenges.

In 2022, CoSW led the three in launching the FCPS School Social Work Fellowship. The online program, which meets Kentucky’s mandated requirements for certification, focuses on equipping participants with specialized practices and skills to address the diverse behavioral and mental health needs of students across all grade levels.

Thus far, it seems the fellowship is doing just that.

Jessica McCoy, part of the inaugural fellowship cohort, shared that her time in the program was both “rewarding and inspiring”. As a graduate student working in a public-school student support role, she entered the program looking to garner a deeper understanding of how to respond to the increasingly complex challenges of working in a public school system.

“Thanks to this fellowship, I earned my school social work certification and was able to adapt to the public education environment while building stronger connections within it,” McCoy shared.

For many local school social workers, the opportunity to advance education, particularly through specialized certifications, can be cost and time prohibitive. The modality and investment in the UK-FCPS partnership model help to mitigate those challenges.

“To be clear, this fellowship program addresses two distinct, yet interconnected challenges for Kentucky,” explained Dr. Jay Miller, dean of CoSW. “First, it builds the skillset of practitioners and prepares them to more adeptly support their students. Second, it addresses critical workforce recruitment and retention needs pertaining to mental and behavioral health professionals.”  

Jordan Bentley, another first-cohort fellow, agrees.

Bentely described the fellowship as a “practical path forward” in his career and credits the fellowship credential with offering stability in his professional roe. Bentley is now a Mental Health Specialist at Wellington Elementary.

As needs continue to grow, there are no plans on the UK-FCPS partnership slowing down.

“We are truly grateful to the University of Kentucky and Dean Jay Miller for providing this amazing opportunity that opens a path for our team members to obtain their certification in school social work,” Dr. Demetrus Liggins, FCPS superintendent, said. “As part of our commitment to serving the whole child, Fayette County Public Schools is actively seeking to build the number of employees who hold this endorsement.”

Since its inception, the partnership has supported practitioners at Wellington Elementary, Maxwell Elementary, Coventry Oak, and Clay Mills Elementary, to name a few.

The next cohort of FCPS School Social Work Fellows will begin Summer 2024.

For over 85 years, the College of Social Work (CoSW) at the University of Kentucky has been a leader in education. Our mission is clear: Through rigorous research, excellence in instruction, and steadfast service, the CoSW works to improve the human condition. Always, in all ways.

As the state’s flagship university, our mission is actualized through our deeds. Our faculty are renowned academicians dedicated to fostering the development of high-quality practitioners and researchers. As a college, we promote community and individual well-being through translational research and scholarship, exemplary teaching, and vital community engagement. We are committed to the people and social institutions throughout Kentucky, the nation, and the world.