AISD adds mental health centers at several Northwest Austin schools

Blazier Elementary School Mental Health Center

Blazier Elementary School Mental Health Center

Image description
AISD expands its mental health services
With mental health-related calls to Austin ISD police increasing each year and the workload of school counselors becoming more burdensome, AISD has opened 40 school mental health centers and added about 100 non-district mental health specialists since 2011.

Mental health centers are designated rooms on district campuses where licensed mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists or therapists, meet with students, families and staff to work through mental health barriers that could be affecting the student.

Services at the centers are free to students and parents, and staff at the centers work in conjunction with traditional school counselors, parent support specialists, school nurses and other school employees, said Twyla Williams, AISD administrative supervisor of counseling and crisis.

“[The centers] create a community of care in our campuses where we link together,” she said. “At the end of the day we all have that same goal: We are all wanting that student to be successful and to heal that hurt [they have].”

Established in 2011 as a pilot program at Crockett High School, mental health centers had opened at 18 AISD campuses by the start of the 2017-18 school year, according to AISD spokesperson Cristina Nguyen.

Using funding from a $4.5 million Victims of Crime Act grant awarded to the district last fall, last February AISD expanded the program to 22 elementary schools that feed into Akins, Lanier and LBJ Early College high schools, said Tracy Spinner, AISD assistant director of comprehensive health services.

According to a 2012 study by Dell Children’s Medical Center, the schools are located in ZIP codes with higher crime rates, language challenges and higher levels of child maltreatment.

“By providing mental health services on campus, we are able to identify, support, and efficiently provide clinical treatment for our students experiencing a variety of mental health issues,” Spinner said.

Common mental health issues include clinical anxiety; depression; and stress related to family relationships, schoolwork or trauma, said Elizabeth Minne, director of Austin-based Vida Clinic, which staffs and coordinates 25 of the district’s mental health centers. Austin-based Integral Care, a counseling and mental health service, operates the other centers.

Minne said the goal of the program is to have licensed therapists provide deeper, more individualized care than what would be offered through a traditional school counselor. She said therapists look at student behavior empathetically instead of relying on punitive tactics, such as suspensions, which bar students from being in the classroom and learning.

Since expanding the program in February, she said the new mental health centers have served over 1,400 individuals.

“Our goal is not only to do therapy with kids and to help them individually, but to really create a whole climatic shift on our campuses,” Minne said. “For every student that we serve we also work with the adults in their lives.”

Having centers on campus allows for better coordination of services, Williams said. It also allows students to take advantage of services during the school day, eliminating potential scheduling or transportation conflicts that could be created if centers were off-site.

School counselors are still the first line of defense in helping identify what may be bothering a student, but Williams said once it is determined a student needs specified attention, he or she could be referred to a center.

Based on data collected since 2011, Minne said students who have spent a year using mental health center services show a significant decrease in anxiety and depression symptoms as well as increases in positive relationships with their peers. Students in the program have increased graduation rates; improved academic achievement; and lowered both drop-out rate and suspensions, Williams said.

Minne said she hopes mental health centers will expand to all AISD schools in the future.

“Mental health does not discriminate. It’s present at all of our campuses regardless of money or demographics,” she said. “I think any estimation of the need [for mental health services] is an underestimation.”
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


MOST RECENT

Photo of boarded-up Sixth Street bars
With COVID-19 projections 'bleak' through Thanksgiving, Travis County keeps bars closed

Statistical models from the University of Texas show a 92% chance the pandemic is worsening, but the increase in cases and hospitalizations have leveled off in the last few days.

Here is what you need to know about coronavirus in Williamson County. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County adds 61 new cases of COVID-19, 1 death to daily count

Here are the coronavirus data updates to know today in Williamson County.

Even though Williamson County was lowered to a coronavirus spread risk of “minimal” on Oct. 26, masks are still required. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Masks are still required in Williamson County

Even though Williamson County was lowered to a coronavirus spread risk level of “minimal” on Oct. 26, masks are still required.

Customers can order Goodstock Angus and Goodstock Black Label beef, including ribeye steaks, strip steaks, filets and ground chuck. (Courtesy Nolan Ryan brands)
Nolan Ryan expands Round Rock-based butcher business and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court unanimously approved an agreement with the State of Texas and the Sheriff’s Office to continue the lease of excess equipment after initially denying the agreement in July. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Williamson County Commissioners overturn decision on ending contract for law enforcement equipment

The Williamson County Commissioners Court unanimously approved an agreement with the State of Texas and the Sheriff’s Office to continue the lease of excess equipment after initially denying the agreement in July.

Burnet Road at West Braker Lane
Corridor projects along South Lamar Boulevard, Burnet Road will break ground by early 2021

Two corridor roadway projects approved in the city of Austin’s 2016 Mobility Bond are moving forward after recently receiving environmental clearances.

An "I Voted" sticker is left outside the Northwest Recreation Center in Austin, one of 37 early voting polling places open in Travis County. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than half of all Travis County voters have cast their ballots, exceeding early voting turnout percentage in 2016

More than 448,000 votes have been cast in Travis County. Early voting closes on Oct. 30.

Austin ISD trustees met Oct. 26, discussing in-person learning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Twice as many Austin elementary students have returned to campus compared to first day of in-person instruction, district says

Austin ISD will open its campuses to accommodate all students who request in-person instruction beginning Nov. 2.

Capital Metro released new renderings Oct. 26 of its proposed Project Connect expansion, which voters will decide Nov. 3. This rendering shows a Blue Line light rail train at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Rendering courtesy Capital Metro)
In final week of early voting, here is what Austin residents should know about Project Connect

The proposition appears as a 237-word block of text near the end of the ballot but boils down to a simple question: Are voters for or against a significant expansion of local public transportation, paid for in part with property tax funds?

Here is what you need to know today about the coronavirus in Williamson County. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County coronavirus spread risk drops to ‘minimal’

Here is what you need to know today about the coronavirus in Williamson County.

More than half of Williamson County eligible voters have already cast their ballot ahead of the November election. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than half of Williamson County eligible voters have cast their ballot ahead of the November election

The county surpassed the total number of early voters in 2016 on Oct. 22.

West Chelsea Contemporary Art Gallery pop up
West Chelsea Contemporary Art Gallery opens pop-up in Domain Northside and 5 other new business updates in Northwest Austin

Several new businesses have recently opened across Northwest Austin. Read here to learn more.