Considerations for elementary schools and university collaborations: a guide to implementing counseling research.

Author:Muro, Joel H.


With educational funds becoming scarce through state and national sources, schools and universities share the pressure of finding new and inventive ways to enhance student learning experiences and the overall educational environment. This charge comes despite dwindling availability of time, trained staff, or accessible funds in the public school systems and university settings. It may also be seen as an opportunity to implement research studies while assisting beleaguered schools. By using the university-school collaboration model, these often isolated organizations could converge to form the mutual goals of shared responsibilities, combined resources, and joint accountability, which could possibly create a unified system designed to meet the increasing needs of school children (Palladino-Schultheiss, 2005).

University-school collaboration may extend past the notion of simple shared resources in order to connect ideas, share talents, and solve problems mutually. It also provides fertile ground for counseling researchers to obtain, analyze and disseminate data. The partnership, then, may simultaneously provide benefits to the organizations and the individuals that inhabit them. This article specifically discusses the process, merits, and drawbacks of engaging in university-school collaboration with research potentials by providing readers with a template for implementation in order to establish similar projects within their counseling programs. In addition, the authors of this work include their own experiences when planning and executing such a project. Our experiences mirror the checklist (Figure 1) to show our successes as well as pratfalls.

Introduction to Collaborations

There are a growing number of schools reaching out to professionals in the higher education community for the purpose of establishing relationships characterized by service and research. Upon formation, these relationships can coordinate resources from the university which include benefits to a school-based treatment structure in order to address issues that are important to the individual student, the invested educational institutions, and the community at-large (Stickley, Muro, & Blanco, 2013; Walsh, Barrett, & DePaul, 2007). Many university-based counseling programs have the opportunity to offer outreach and treatment as an early intervention to school children who may not receive services otherwise. These programs may also simultaneously build learning experiences for counseling trainees in a community environment that is realistic, diverse, and cross-cultural. In this way, these agencies collaborate with similar objectives, comparable goals, and mutual advantages to create a rewarding partnership that provides effective, helpful, and well-timed services.

Benefitting the Schools and Their Communities

Existing vanguards for mental health interventions for children are typically school staff members; they represent the first point of contact for children and families in need despite overwhelming numbers and underwhelming resources. Unfortunately, current trends in academic environments require that school employees focus their time and efforts on closing achievement gaps. With this directive spearheading most curriculums, children with unmet needs continue to be thwarted by mental health-related barriers. In turn, their education suffers.

Collaborative projects, such as what the authors are proposing, can create direct services for specific children with unmet needs in an environment that contains the essential elements of consistency, availability, and dependability. An additional benefit to challenged learners is the presence of individuals who are adjunct to the learning experience, struggling children can engage in prosocial activities that may decrease behavioral issues, foster resilience, and enhance the overall learning experience (Anderson-Butcher & Ashton, 2004; Bryan & Henry, 2012). In addition, through testing, suppositions may be made about the impact such collaborations might make as well as exposing students to research studies in which they can participate and summarize findings.

The advantages offered to children and schools from the support of supplementary resources, services, and opportunities afforded in the collaborative approach are invaluable. They suggest an increase in academic achievement (Blanco & Ray, 2011); and they also may strengthen bonds in relationships between parents, teachers, students, and communities. Researchers have suggested that children and their families who receive services in the schools are more likely to perceive the schools as a support network for assistance while school staff experience less stress and incidences of feeling 'burned out' (Anderson-Butcher & Ashton, 2004). Moreover, many parents may also struggle with issues of time, resources, and comprehension of mental health services. Due to caregivers' knowledge deficit related to counseling possibilities, the presence of university professionals in the schools provide trustworthy, qualified, reputable individuals whose availability, flexibility, and education may increase the likelihood of consistent attendance and outside support (Evans & Weist, 2004).

The authors, in their preparation for implementing their study which was folded in with checklist (Figure 1), looked at such collaboration as a win -win for the schools and the university. The university would be getting research produced, counselors in training in the community, and a chance to build positive regard for the institution of higher learning. The schools would be receiving professional, knowledgeable counselors (the authors) and counselors-in training who would be easing the burden on the school counselor in each school.

What is Good for the School is Good for the University

As local schools continue to seek programs that may improve and expand their mental health programs, universities are given the opportunity to broaden their training and educational experiences by implementing research initiatives through the collaborative design. Essentially, counseling students would be conducting action research and providing empirically-supported interventions and services under the supervision and guidance of university supervisors with the ultimate goal of gaining valuable experience and gathering essential empirical data (Evans & Weist, 2004). Providing direct services in the schools challenges students to implement their knowledge and training and establish new relationships while concomitantly living the experience of initiating research. These projects promote professional development by helping students learn a process that makes it seem possible for them to visualize conducting independent research in their future careers (Espido-Bello, 2006).

The scholarly remunerations for universities and counseling professionals who are involved in this activity are vast; actively engaging in the community provides insight and awareness to mental health issues or trends worthy of consideration. In addition, it provides opportunities to increase public awareness about the make-up and benefits of empirically-supported approaches such as those presented in this article (Evans & Weist, 2004; Fall & Van Zandt, 1997). The nature of the collaborative approach is to support common counseling interventions, such as in-vivo learning, early assessment, and community-based referral. For the counseling researcher, these projects allow for valuable data collection and provide relevant populations for study.

For example, the authors in this article chose to implement a play therapy-based research initiative in which a group of university professionals and Master's-level counseling students (counselors--in--training) provided direct play therapy services to children in the schools while assessing academic achievement, anxiety, and self-concept in a pre-test, post-test research design. Our experience in launching and completing such a project can serve as a foundation for others who wish to take similar measures. Additionally, this article and its subsequent resources are intended to be adaptable to organizations outside the collegiate environment that are interested in engaging in a similar approach. Throughout the remainder of the article, we offer our experiences as well as some of our successes--and limitations--when undertaking such an effort.

Pitfalls and Obstacles

The primary mission of many schools is improved academic achievement and an increased graduation rate; the notion of outside influence can be perceived as threatening as it is appealing to school administrators or districts under time constraints and performance pressures. Teachers, administrators, and parents are often disconcerted by projects that require extra scheduling, classroom disruptions, or additional communication efforts, and they may even resent the need for additional assessment or outside 'help'. Similarly, universities may struggle to find the adequate managing costs, training resources, and competent supervision needed to implement a viable intervention and research design. It can be challenging to even seasoned researchers and counselor educators, who are sometimes unfamiliar with the complexity and culture of the school environment, to effectively align research, school ideas, and priorities democratically. In addition, there appears to be a necessity with balancing the demands of time versus efficiency and managing any unanticipated consequences following the impact of the research findings (Coburn, Bae, & Turner, 2008; Kuriloff, Reichert, Stoudt, & Ravitch, 2009). Although there is a wealth of current literature intended to provide advice or tips on successful collaboration (Anderson-Butcher & Ashton, 2004; Borthwick, Stirling, & Cook, 2000; Bryan & Henry, 2012; DeVaney & Brendel, 2001; Espido-Bello, 2006; Hooper & Brandt-Britnell, 2012; Kuriloff et al., 2009), these authors endeavor...

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