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CEHD's Abingdon cohort: 20 years of success

Each school district in far Southwest Virginia staffs competent school counselors who effectively serve its K-12 population.

That may seem like standard practice, but 20 years ago, there was a critical shortage of such counselors.

There also existed a need for additional trained clinical mental health counselors.

"There was an apparent need for a program there to train people to be school counselors and clinical health counselors to fill the gap in both the schools and the clinical mental health areas," said Alan Forrest, professor in Radford University's Department of Counselor Education.

When the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center opened in Abingdon, Forrest was among a group of RU Counselor Education faculty who made a commitment to opening a program offering master's degrees in counseling.  

"In far Southwest Virginia, there historically has been a shortage of counselors, school counselors and clinical mental health counselors," Forrest explained. "Part of that is because there has been no university in this area to provide the training and master's degrees."

The counseling program has been a gift to schools and mental health facilities in Southwest Virginia. Many of the cohort graduates stay and find jobs in their communities. 

"Now after 20 years, most of the schools in far Southwest Virginia have no shortage of counselors," Forrest said. 

The gap has been filled.

"You can go in just about any school or school district in far Southwest Virginia and find a graduate of our program," Forrest proudly noted. "Also, we have many of our clinical graduates in the mental health centers and community services."

When students are admitted to a cohort, they enroll in two courses per semester for three years. There are two concentrations: clinical mental health counseling and school counseling.

Susan King, who graduated with the 2014 cohort, said the Abingdon location was perfect for her and many of the students in her class. "Being able to take our classes in Abingdon was a gift," said King, an English teacher in Washington County Public Schools.

King said the professors have also been a gift to her and her fellow students. "I just hope they were as glad to be in our presence as we were in theirs," she said.

"We've done this continually over the past 20 years," Forrest said. "Our faculty have made a commitment to the communities of Southwest Virginia."

Forrest emphasizes the fact that students in the Abingdon cohort receive the "same degree of training that students on the Radford campus receive."

"We as a department feel very proud that we have contributed to the school districts and communities of Southwest Virginia by providing them with knowledgeable, skillful, professional and caring counseling professionals in an area where there has historically been a scarcity," Forrest said.

Aug 19, 2014