National Center for School Mental Health Team

NCSMH ChampionsPillars of Support

On the Front Lines:
UMB Champions of Excellence
National Center for School Mental Health Team
School of Medicine

When schools shut down a year ago, children’s lives were turned upside-down: learning via screens, physically distancing from friends, and worrying about a global pandemic.

Providing support for their emotional well-being and education has been at the forefront of many Americans’ minds. And a University of Maryland School of Medicine organization — the National Center for School Mental Health (NCSMH) — is sharing its expertise to do just that. 

The mission of NCSMH, founded in 1995, is to strengthen policies and programs in school mental health to improve learning and promote success for children. NCSMH clinicians have pivoted the services they provide in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County schools to provide tele-mental health and continue to offer a full array of supports for thousands of students and their families.

“We are definitely seeing increased anxiety and depression and feelings of isolation,” said NCSMH co-director Nancy Lever, PhD. “Students are missing being in the classroom, being able to see and experience the school setting, and have recess and do collaborative activities with their classmates. It definitely has been challenging for them not to have that in-person social-emotional learning and academic learning.”

NCSMH also has addressed the learning models — virtual, hybrid, and in-person — that schools have navigated by developing resources, conducting webinars and tutorials, and providing technical assistance to state departments of education and school districts nationally.

“Our entire team jumped in when we recognized that our young people and our educators are suffering and trying to navigate this new world of learning,” said NCSMH co-director Sharon Hoover, PhD. “Some of the supports that we’ve been able to provide are policy and practice guidance on how to support students’ mental health from a distance learning perspective and how to integrate social-emotional learning into the classroom.”

For these efforts, the NCSMH team has been named a University of Maryland, Baltimore Champion of Excellence. 

The NCSMH team “is completely dedicated to child mental health and to the families that they serve, so it’s really meaningful to be acknowledged in this way as a broad team,” Hoover said.

Lever praised the team of about 100 as “caring, hardworking, committed, incredibly flexible, and absolutely creative.”

Not only is the center providing individual and family services, but it also is working with teachers and parents, who have taken on a new role with virtual learning.

“We know teachers are incredibly burdened and stressed right now. We hope that schools will continue to put well-being structures in place for educators to support a healthy workforce because if they’re not well, it’ll be really hard to support students’ mental health,” Hoover said. “And for our families, give yourself permission to not be perfect during this time. We know that parents are layering on many responsibilities, so they need to take care of themselves. They are going to be the eyes and ears for when things do go awry with their children.”

Lever said the team is excited to return to its in-person work in schools.

“We are very much ready and prepared to return when they tell us it’s safe and schools are open,” she said. “Our goal is to continue to provide that full continuum of care.”

— Jen Badie


Maria Alvarez

Maria Alvarez, School Mental Health Senior Counselor

Jackie Atunrase

Jackie Atunrase, Predoctoral Intern

Carol Bazis

Carol Bazis, School Mental Health Senior Counselor

Tiffany Beason

Tiffany Beason, School Mental Health Senior Counselor

Yourdanos Bekele

Yourdanos Bekele, Clinical Research Assistant

Bernice Bernhardt

Bernice Bernhardt, Budget Analyst

Larraine Bernstein

Larraine Bernstein, Policy Analyst

Tammy Bloss

Tammy Bloss, Budget Analyst

Jill Bohenkamp

Jill Bohnenkamp, Core Faculty and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Nia Caldwell

Nia Caldwell, School Mental Health Counselor

Taneisha Carter

Taneisha Carter, Senior Clinical Research Assistant

Elizabeth Connors

Elizabeth Connors, Core Faculty

Jennifer Cox

Jen Cox, Director of School Mental Health Program

Dana Cunningham

Dana Cunningham, Faculty Consultant, Director of Prince George's School Mental Health Initiative

Ellie Davis

Ellie Davis, Business and Operations Manager

Pamela Dorman

Pam Dorman, School Mental Health Senior Counselor

Kristina Floyd

Kristina Floyd, School Mental Health Lead Counselor

Kelly Foster

Kelly Foster, School Mental Health Lead Counselor

Melissa Ambrose

Melissa Grady Ambrose, Training Director

Samantha Hartley

Sami Hartley, Predoctoral Intern

Richenda Hobbs

Richenda Hobbs, Community Outreach Worker II

Sharon Hoover

Sharon Hoover, Co-Director, Professor of Psychiatry

Opal Jones

Opal Jones, School Mental Health Senior Counselor

Jennifer Lease

Jennifer Lease, School Mental Health Senior Counselor

Nancy Lever

Nancy Lever, Co-Director, Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Janice Mace

Janice Mace, Behavioral Health Program Coordinator

Sylvia McCree-Huntley

Sylvia McCree-Huntley, Director of Professional Development and Continuing Education

Shannon Nemer

Shannon Nemer, Postdoctoral Fellow

Shawn Orenstein

Shawn Orenstein, Program and Policy Manager

Karah Palmer

Karah Palmer, Research Project Coordinator

Porsche Palmer

Porsche Palmer, Community Outreach Worker II

Nikita Parson

Nikita Parson, Assistant Director of School Mental Health Program

Brittany Parham

Brittany Parham, Core Faculty and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Megan Prass

Megan Prass, Clinical Research Assistant

Joanna Prout

Joanna Prout, Clinical Research Manager

Sumer Rahe

Sumer Rahe, Clinical Research Assistant

Pamela Rakshan-Rouhakhtar

Pamela Rakhshan Rouhakhtar, Predoctoral Intern

Sam Reaves

Sam Reaves, Postdoctoral Fellow

Elissa Robinson

Elissa Robinson, Clinical Research Assistant

Perrin Robinson

Perrin Robinson, Clinical Research Specialist

Gabrielle Sanchez

Gabby Sanchez, School Mental Health Counselor

Joseph Santangelo

Joseph Santangelo, School Mental Health Counselor

Jasmine Savoy

Jasmine Savoy, School Mental Health Counselor

Kristin Scardamalia

Kris Scardamalia, Core Faculty and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Cindy Schaeffer

Cindy Schaeffer, Core Faculty and Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Erin Sisk

Erin Sisk, Community Outreach Coordinator

Rachel Spiegler

Rikki Spiegler, School Mental Health Senior Counselor

Janai Springer

Janai Springer, School Mental Health Counselor

Katie Trainor

Katie Trainor, Predoctoral Intern

Courtney Vaughan

Courtney Vaughan, School Transition Specialist

Christina Walker

Christina Walker, Budget Analyst

Kelly Willis

Kelly Willis, Associate Director of School Mental Health Program

Brandy Wimbish

Brandy Wimbish, School Mental Health Senior Counselor

Ashley Woods

Ashley Woods, School Mental Health Senior Counselor

Jordy Yarnell

Jordy Yarnell, Postdoctoral Fellow

Marie Yuille

Marie Yuille, Clinical Research Specialist