Kennesaw State targets in-school mental health gaps using $4.4 million federal grant

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jun 5, 2023

Photo of Monica Nandan
Monica Nandan
Bringing needed school-based mental health resources into five rural northwest Georgia counties is the aim of a five-year, federally funded project led by Kennesaw State University.

An interdisciplinary team headed by Monica Nandan, director of strategic partnerships and social impact in Kennesaw State’s Wellstar College of Health and Human Services, has been awarded a $4.45 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education. Faculty from the Wellstar College and the Bagwell College of Education will collaborate on the project to bring Master of Social Work students and specially trained student teachers into Georgia public schools in Bartow, Floyd, Gordon, Paulding and Polk counties, as well as provide specialized intervention training to teachers and school-based police officers there.

Nandan said high poverty rates in the project area, along with other stressors exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, have meant a rising level of anxiety, depression and other adverse effects on the mental health of students. The limited numbers of school psychologists and counselors are not enough to meet all student needs, she said.

“School social workers are needed to do things that psychologists and counselors don’t do – help connect students and their families to community resources,” Nandan said. “They handle referrals to community resources, addressing the needs of students’ families, who may have endured layoffs or other issues. Anything that affects a child’s life – that is affecting them academically – the social workers can help.”

Over five years, 50 Master of Social Work students and 80 student teachers will be trained to serve students in public schools in the target counties. The participating social work students will sign a commitment to work at least one year after graduation in one of the five school districts, or with a social service agency that serves children within the five-county project area. In addition, Kennesaw State educators will provide mental health training to teachers and school-based police officers in the five counties twice a year.

Along with Wellstar College team members Irene McClatchey, professor emeritus of Social Work; Alan Kirk Master of Social Work program director; Victoria Corrigan, MSW internship director, Jennifer Wade-Berg, assistant dean for student success; and Allison Garefino research scholar – social, behavioral and health sciences; the project involves collaboration with Megan Adams, associate professor of reading education in the Bagwell College of Education, and Latesia Woodley, CEO of Dynamic Achievement.

The members of the project team and their school system partners are recruiting Master of Social Work students now who will intern in the school systems starting in August. Next spring, they will begin recruiting student teachers to pair with the social work students beginning in August 2024.

The student social workers and student teachers will work as a team to identify students with needs and connect them to community resources that can help. The goal is to establish a pipeline of trained professionals to work in interprofessional dyads and teams, with enough traction to continue after the five-year project period, Nandan said.

In addition to the work in northwest Georgia, the Wellstar College received a $92,500 subaward from Georgia State University to train up to eight Master of Social Work students to work in the Clayton County school district.

These efforts are part of a larger effort by Wellstar College in mental health that has attracted local, state and federal funding for several projects since 2019, Nandan said.

The current project builds on a similar four-year project begun in 2021 to train KSU students to provide substance abuse and suicide prevention services for youth in the same five-county area. That ongoing effort is funded by a $1 million grant from the Health Resource and Services Administration (HRSA). 

“We’re building a critical mass here at Kennesaw State in behavioral health in terms of how we are training people for the workforce, while at the same time serving our neighboring communities,” Nandan said.

–      By Gary Tanner

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit