CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The University of Virginia is leading the Commonwealth’s new plan to improve mental health in K-12 students. A new statewide project called the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health aims to strengthen school mental health services. 

"Mental health needs in students are increasing and are really important and there’s a shortage of qualified school mental health providers. What we’re trying to do is simply. If we pair universities who are training the next generation of mental health providers with school divisions in the area who need them the most, we think we’re going to help increase the pipeline," said Dr. Michael Lyons, a UVA professor and co-director of the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health. 

The program strengthens school mental health services by building a pipeline of graduate student trainees to school divisions that include Charlottesville, Buckingham County, Staunton and Waynesboro. The Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health also provides professional mental health training to professionals who work in school divisions. 

"The partnership is a collaboration between university faculty and area schools that are serving students to support their mental health," Lyons said.

The partnership is funded by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education and covers the four school divisions that are part of the program. UVA students will receive a stipend if they are hired in one of the four partner divisions or other high-need areas across the state.

Patrick Farrell, the intervention and support supervisor for Charlottesville City Schools, says mental health is vital, especially in the adolescent years. 

"It’s critical. We’ve recognized for a number of years the level of need our students and even families in trying to balance their own mental health with demands of schools," Farrell said.

Through the partnership, UVA students are receiving training.

"Student counselors, like people who are trained to be counselors, social workers, school psychologists at UVA and they’re participating with us in these training sessions. Then eventually these students will get placed in schools," Farrell said.

In addition to pairing graduate student interns with supervisors in Charlottesville City Schools, the partnership recently launched a new suite of online professional modules for professionals already working in the school system. 

"Right now, it’s improving the skills of the professionals we have in the building right now," Farrell said.

The partnership aims to funnel mental health professionals into Charlottesville City Schools.