Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim and the district’s Elementary Teacher of the Year Courtney Davis joined a panel to discuss student mental health on Monday.
Texas PTA in collaboration with the Texas Pediatric Society hosted the Facebook Live event, Straight Talk at the Capitol: Dare to Self-Care, to bring awareness to the increasing challenges that students face when it comes to their mental health.
The event featured two panels including Kim and Davis along with a high school student who shared her story, a medical doctor, a Texas State Representative, and more. An increase in the need for mental health services has been seen across the state. Clarity Child Guidance Center in San Antonio has seen a 27 percent increase in inpatient hospital admissions, a 19 percent increase in patients placed on suicide risk precautions and a 159 percent increase in the use of psychiatric emergency services beds.
Since children and teenagers spend much of their time in school, the role that schools play in their mental health is important to address. The first place to begin is ensuring that classrooms and campuses are safe for all students to learn and grow.
“It is important for us as educators to provide a safe place for our kids to grow not only academically but socially and emotionally as well,” said Kim, after the event. “In many ways, the pandemic has created a strain on our school systems. I think now is the time when we must reflect and engage with all of our stakeholders – parents, teachers, PTAs, school-based mental health providers, local community mental health agencies and our students – in order to move forward to face the challenges we have including mental health.”
Davis, who has been teaching for five years, said that relationships are the foundation to all learning, and building these relationships helps students with social and emotional health.
“It is our job as teachers to provide a safe place for them to learn and grow,” Davis said. “My goal every day is that my students feel heard and loved.”
Superintendent Kim urges parents and family members to help schools feel the void that many children and teens may feel right now. Help them realize that it is OK to talk about their feelings and to reach out to a teacher, counselor or adult in their life if they need guidance or just need someone to talk to.
“We have to let them know that it is OK to seek help,” Kim said, and it takes everyone to create this safe space.
Currently, students in Comal ISD have 115 school-based mental health professionals to turn to for support, including 58 school counselors, 18 student support specialists, and 15 site coordinators from Communities in Schools. Students with the highest needs can be referred to one of 34 contract therapists who provide services in the school setting, 24 licensed school psychologists, the local mental health authority or a number of community providers.
Additionally, the district created a Mental Health Task Force this school year which meets monthly to support and strengthen mental wellness in the community.
The student on the panel said that three of the most powerful words anyone can ask a teenager is, “Are you OK?” Let them know that someone cares about them.