Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State awarded $200K school counselors grant

February 13, 2018

Indiana State University has received a $200,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to enhance the education and training of school counselors.

The funding is part of Lilly Endowment's Comprehensive Counseling Initiative for Indiana K-12 Students.

Launched in September 2016, the five-year initiative is designed to encourage the state's schools to develop best-practice comprehensive counseling models that effectively address the academic, college, career and social and emotional counseling needs of students.

Through the initiative Lilly Endowment has made $26.4 million in grants to public school corporations and charter schools, and to universities, including Indiana State, that are working to strengthen counselor and principal preparation programs.

"It's a huge, huge investment in Hoosiers," said Tonya Christman Balch, associate professor in the department of communication disorders and counseling, school and educational psychology at Indiana State.

The grant to Indiana State provides funding to conduct a program assessment, program evaluation, professional development and "support the essential initiatives needed to do to improve your programs," she said.

Balch and her team identified areas that need to be addressed, including:

• skills to develop a comprehensive school counseling program;

• knowledge and skills to work effectively with students in poverty;

• knowledge and skills to meet K-12 students' social/emotional needs;

• effectively assist K-12 students with career exploration;

• to help graduates from the school counseling program, school administration and supervision program to demonstrate collaboration skills.

As for the last point, Balch said sometimes there's a disconnect between a school counselor and a school administrator.

"As a building-level administrator or district-wide superintendent, it's generally easier for that person to make teaching or learning decisions such as deciding what a math teacher is going to do - they're going to teach math -- or become an English teacher -- they're going to teach English. But they don't receive training on specifically how to use a school counselor or other human service professional," she said.

Additionally, Balch said part of the problem has been the changing roles of a school counselor. At the turn of the last century, a counselor would have more of a vocational-focused job, guiding a student to get some type of industry-based job.

"Over time, that morphed into a more mental health emphasis," she said.

But since the 1990s, the role of school counselors has changed, and there's not a lot of training for administrators about how to best engage counselors in their schools, Balch said. This grant will help to bridge that gap.

Another focus of the grant, Balch said, is to better prepare graduate students in working with K-12 students who are in poverty.

"We've had discussions among faculty and clinical partners that we don't always see empathy among pre-service counselors concerning poverty," Balch said.

Indiana State historically has had a focus providing a multi-cultural education.

"I don't think many students view poverty as a measure of diversity," Balch said. "I think sometimes pre-service counselors appropriately consider diversity as modes of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, but they aren't seeing that poverty is an important component as well."

She said the grant would give Indiana State the funds, in part, to better focus on strengthening graduate students' knowledge, skills and awareness when it comes to poverty.

The timing of the grant is perfect, Balch said, because Indiana State currently has a 48-hour accredited counseling program. But the program is moving to 60 hours. The grant will give the program ample ideas to build curriculum for the additional 12 hours.

"As a faculty member, there's absolutely nothing more rewarding than to see a pre-service counselor enroll in our program and witness that incredible growth over a two-year period," Balch said. "To see the passion, the empathy they have for students, and the difference they will make in our K-12 schools - it's a very, very rewarding job."

Balch describes her role as a faculty member as in her dream job: she helps support K-12 students across Indiana and beyond.

A native of Stafford, Ohio, located in southeastern Ohio near West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Balch earned her bachelor's degree from Indiana State in 1989 and a master's degree in school counseling in 2001.

"I had not considered teaching, but I did want to help students, so school counseling was the perfect fit for me," Balch said. "I loved working in the high school setting. Supporting students as freshmen or sophomores and then seeing them mature as they made those next steps was very rewarding."

While working as a high school counselor, she came back to Indiana State to complete a doctor of philosophy degree. In 2005, Balch was hired as the coordinator for the school counseling program at Indiana State.

"When I became a professor at ISU, I had even more opportunity to impact students through the training and preparation of great school counselors," Balch said.


Media contact: Tonya Balch, associate professor, Indiana State University,