Baylor Social Work Researchers Earn $2.5 Million Grant to Prepare Mental Health Service Providers for Work in Waco ISD and Transformation Waco Schools

Department of Education grant builds on longstanding partnership between Baylor University and local schools to prepare future school mental health professionals and enhance mental health services

July 13, 2023
Left to right: Carrie Arroyo and Mary Zane Nelson with Baylor's Diana R. Garland School of Social Work

(L to R) Carrie Arroyo and Mary Zane Nelson with Baylor's Diana R. Garland School of Social Work (Robert Rogers/Baylor University)

WACO, Texas (July 13, 2023) – Baylor University researchers in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work have earned a significant federal grant to bolster mental health services to school children by preparing licensed mental health providers for work in schools. That project, Partnering for Heart of Texas (H.O.T.) Mental Health, was awarded more than $2.5 million in Department of Education funding over a five-year period, and provides for internship positions, training and certificate program development, Spanish-language training and more.

Carrie Arroyo, MSW, LCSW, senior lecturer of social work at Baylor, serves as project’s principal investigator, and is joined on the grant by Mary Zane Nelson, MSW, LCSW, co-principal investigator and project director, and Stephanie Boddie, Ph.D., project evaluator and associate professor of church and community ministries.

“It’s such a privilege to work with local school districts and to help them meet the responsibility of protecting the kids who walk through their doors,” Arroyo said. “We’re grateful for the impact of this grant, which will provide stable funding to build on these relationships and get more local mental health providers trained and working in our schools.”

The grant will build on Baylor’s partnerships with Waco Independent School District (Waco ISD) and Transformation Waco, the nonprofit, in-district charter partnership managing and operating five Waco ISD schools. Baylor social work students have worked in area schools for many years, and through the grant, will continue to serve in Waco High School, G.W. Carver Middle School, Indian Spring Middle School and Alta Vista Elementary School. Unique to the grant, which specifically funds students pursuing their Master of Social Work degree, is a distinct focus to create opportunities for students from the Greater Waco area to train and eventually serve in schools in their home community.

“The Garland School is committed to addressing the mental health needs in our communities; in this, our children are of the utmost importance. In the world today, it is has become increasingly more imperative to help students develop ways to address the challenges of life,” Jon Singletary, Ph.D., dean and The Diana R. Garland Endowed Chair of Child and Family Studies, said. “We are so grateful to funders who can envision with us a better future for the individuals and communities we serve, but especially for the children in our local schools.”

Bridging the gap from need to care

“As we partner with local schools, we see the need for mental health services, and we’re grateful for the openness and advocacy on the part of our local partners to create these mental health positions,” Nelson said. “The data shows, and we see, just how many children are having mental health struggles. To keep a child from falling through the cracks, potentially, it’s helpful to have specialists who can serve in the school and get children the care they need.”

Nationally, many schools and districts experience a gap between the needs of their student body and the services they are capable of providing. From a shortage of trained professionals to lack of funds, numerous obstacles stretch districts as they seek to provide the best services for their children. Partnering for Heart of Texas (H.O.T.) Mental Health is one of numerous projects across the nation funded through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to bridge gaps in training, funding and talent pool development.

Over a five-year period, the grant will fund an escalating number of in-school positions, starting with six students the first year and growing to 10 by the third year of the grant. Additional provisions from the grant include Spanish-language training to prepare practitioners to capably and ethically serve Spanish-speaking students, and the development of a clinical school social work certificate that would demonstrate graduates experience in school-based mental health care. Further stipends will support students juggling school, work and family needs as they pursue their degree, with a focus on student recruitment from the Waco area.

“Mental health as a field of practice takes a lot of training. Many people don’t realize what all social workers can do until an event in their lives brings them into contact with one,” Arroyo said. “The more we can partner with our schools and create earlier exposure to mental health services—to also help students envision that as a career path and start working towards it—it’s exciting to think about that impact and what it would mean to have more homegrown practitioners here in Waco.”

Partnering for Heart of Texas (H.O.T.) Mental Health begins this fall and will continue through 2027, with $2,529,544 of funding dispersed over the five-year period. Yearly evaluations will be performed to ensure effectiveness and enhancement throughout the life of the program.

“We know that our students have faced trauma in their lives, and the pandemic only exacerbated that,” Joshua Wucher, chief communications officer for Transformation Waco, said. “We’ve had a number of social mental health services available to our students, and our partnership with Baylor’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work has been very valuable to provide wraparound services for our students. We’re thrilled about the new grant and the support it will provide to our students.”


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work is home to one of the leading graduate social work programs in the nation with a research agenda that explores humanity, engages spirituality and promotes equity. Upholding its mission of preparing social workers in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership, the School offers a baccalaureate degree (BSW); a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree available in Waco or online; three joint-degree options, MSW/MBA, MSW/MDiv and MSW/MTS, through a partnership with Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business and George W. Truett Theological Seminary; and an online Ph.D. program. Visit the School of Social Work website to learn more.