More than 15 years ago, when Mary Beth Bellah and her family fostered and later adopted a 9-year-old boy, she found that she had made a fortunate choice of career and employer. Because of their new son’s learning disabilities and complex emotional traumas, they needed access to an array of consultants and services. Fortunately, Bellah had managed the Center for Clinical Psychology Services, housed within the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, for 11 years.
“It was only because I worked there and knew the faculty that I was aware of the multiple services offered through Curry training clinics, all of which were operated separately and housed in different locations,” Bellah said. “If I hadn’t been in this job, it would have taken more time and a lot more stress to figure out what he needed and how to get help for him.”
Bellah’s son benefitted not only from the Center for Clinical Psychology, but from the Speech-Language-Hearing Center, the McGuffey Reading Center and the Personal and Career Development Center – all resources under the Curry School umbrella.
Now, navigating these clinical services is no longer a matter of luck, said Bellah, who is back at Curry as clinical administrator for the new Sheila C. Johnson Center for Human Services. Families can access comprehensive services for all age groups at a single location.
A dedication ceremony for the center was held on Oct. 25.
Businesswoman Sheila C. Johnson, a member of U.Va.‘s Board of Visitors, gave $5 million to the Curry School to establish the center, and has said she was inspired by her love of children and her desire to see all children succeed in school.
Curry School Dean Robert Pianta told the audience of faculty, staff, students and guests gathered in the atrium of Bavaro Hall that the occasion was a “landmark moment in the history of Curry.”
“Sheila Johnson’s vision led to this center,” he said. “She understood its importance, and we’re indebted to her generosity and her vision.”
Pianta then introduced the speakers for the dedication – U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Johnson’s mother, Marie Crump.
“The Curry School is a leader among education schools,” Sullivan said. The Johnson Center will be the “top psycho-educational treatment center in Virginia” and is “unlike any other center in the country,” she said. It offers “treatment and research and world-class services.”
McDonnell followed Sullivan, and saluted Johnson, the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and a newly appointed member of U.Va.‘s Board of Visitors, for “her love for children and desire to have all impediments torn down to make the best education possible for all children.” He noted that 60 families already have been treated at the center this fall. “That will soon reach into the hundreds and thousands as the center helps families throughout the state and beyond,” he said.
Johnson was unable to attend the dedication due to a family emergency. Crump attended in her absence.
“I can’t find the words to express how I feel about being with you this morning. I’m proud to represent my daughter,” she said. “She believes in education. ... This is why she supports and champions the Curry School. This center is a service for everyone – children, students and adults.”
Crump said it reminded her of when her daughter was growing up. “Our house was open to everyone. Sheila opened her home to all,” too.
“An open place where people can get the care they deserve is what human services is all about,” Crump said. That’s the “heart of the Sheila Johnson Center,” she added.
The Sheila C. Johnson Center, located on the ground floor of the new Bavaro Hall at 417 Emmet St. South, provides a shared administration, reception and waiting area along with multi-use treatment and observation rooms. It incorporates the expertise of both licensed professionals and graduate students in the Curry School’s clinical preparation programs.
Its most innovative feature, Pianta said, is the ability to integrate services across clinics. “The center represents a multidisciplinary approach to assessing and treating children who are struggling in school,” he said.
The center’s clinics will be able to combine their expertise to develop a single, cross-disciplinary treatment plan that addresses the whole child, he said. A child with difficulty reading, for example, may need an evaluation to determine the likelihood of a contributing attention deficit disorder, emotional disorder or language disability.
“This revolutionary approach is sometimes found in health care, but is rarely available to address the educational needs of children,” Pianta said.
—by Lynn Bell and Rebecca Arrington
Photo by Jane Haley