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Powers plans project to boost student mental health

By Claire Cusick, UNC Development Communications

Joelle D. Powers of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work has received the University’s 2009 C. Felix Harvey Award.

Powers, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor, will use the $75,000, one-year award to implement a one-year pilot project to boost student mental health in the Durham Public Schools.

“It is estimated that up to 20 percent of the U.S. school population overall has mental health conditions that interfere with academic success,” Powers wrote in her Harvey Award application. “In Durham, this percentage may well be higher due to the high rate of economic disadvantage among students.”

The C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities is an annual award that supports a variety of institutional initiatives at Carolina. These include undergraduate education, community engagement, and research and economic development in the areas of medicine, business, science, the humanities, law and the environment.

The award is named for C. Felix Harvey, a 1943 alumnus, chairman of Harvey Enterprises & Affiliates and founder of the Little Bank Inc., both in Kinston, N.C. The Harvey family, which includes five generations of UNC graduates, endowed the award in 2007 with a $2 million gift to the University.

Powers’ project will form a partnership between Durham Public Schools and Durham’s public mental health provider, The Durham Center. It will train staff in one school to recognize mental health problems in students, create a school-based referral process, and bring professional mental health providers into the school to serve students. The goal is to increase the school’s capacity of to recognize and meet the needs of students with mental health problems that threaten their academic success.

A former school social worker, Powers previously worked as the director of student services in Durham Public Schools overseeing the district’s social workers, school psychologists and counselors, as well as organizing the professional development offered to these groups.