Fort Bend ISD now treating mental health needs at 8 campuses in marginalized communities

Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
The first wave of Fort Bend ISD’s campus-based mental health centers opened the week students returned from winter break with at least one full-time, clinically licensed therapist per campus serving students at eight schools.

The centers—located at Hightower, Marshall and Willowridge high schools; Lake Olympia, Christa McAuliffe and Missouri City middle schools; and Rosa Parks and Briargate elementary schools—are funded by a $1.5 million grant awarded under the 1984 federal Victims of Crime Act.

Steve Shiels, FBISD’s director of behavioral health and wellness, said by opening these clinics the district is taking a big step in addressing the mental health needs of school-age children, the stigma around mental health and school safety concerns.

“Data shows that in the last five years, the mental health needs of students were just really beyond the scope of what a school was able to deal with well, and that it was a really big challenge for students who are not getting the support that they needed,” Shiels said.

Over the last three school years, FBISD has seen an increase in the number of calls to the FBISD Police Department for assistance handling high-risk mental health crises at school, according to the district’s application for the VOCA grant, which Community Impact Newspaper obtained through a public information request.

In the 2017-18 school year, district police responded to 68 high-risk mental health crises, with 52% of them occurring in the Hightower, Marshall and Willowridge feeder patterns, the feeder patterns with clinics. Additionally, from July 1, 2018, to Feb. 1, 2019, there were 117 calls, with 40% occurring in the identified feeder patterns.

Choosing clinic locations

FBISD chose the locations of the first clinics because they are in historically marginalized communities with high crime rates, according to the district’s VOCA grant application.

While FBISD confirmed in their VOCA application that there is a high demand for mental health services across all 11 of its feeder patterns, it said the demand is especially high in the Hightower, Marshall and Willowridge feeder patterns.

“Those feeder patterns were showing the highest [need] consistently, so that was the reason for that choice,” Shiels said.

Of the district’s 1,044 suicide assessments, 158 were performed in the Hightower, Marshall and Willowridge feeder patterns. School counselors conduct these assessments on students who verbalize or exhibit behaviors indicative of suicide ideation.

The district’s application also provided the Violent Crime Index—which looks at murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault in an area—for three of the four ZIP codes with clinics. All three ZIP codes had a higher Violent Crime Index than the national average.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the ZIP codes where clinics are located had, on average, lower median household incomes. Additionally, district data showed the average percentage of economically disadvantaged students, or those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, in the Hightower, Marshall and Willowridge feeder patterns is 76%, whereas the district average is 43%.

Students, families and district employees who have been victims of crime are able to access services at no cost. Shiels said the grant has an expansive definition of crime and that those who do not qualify for free services can pay using insurance or Medicaid.

Mandi Kimball, director of public policy and government affairs with Children at Risk, a Texas-based research and advocacy organization, said trauma can be experienced in many ways including crime, abuse, neglect and hunger, and that trauma of all kinds affects students at school.

“We know the juvenile justice system is the No. 1 mental health provider, and what Fort Bend ISD is trying to do is to stop that continuum and make sure students get the services they need so that they can be successful in school and life,” Kimball said.

Shiels said the district recognizes there are mental health needs regardless of socio-economic status.

“There are clearly mental health issues at all of our campuses that need to be addressed,” Shiels said. “So, the plan is pretty quickly to start expanding, and to expand outside of those three feeder patterns, and to expand more west.”

Seeking services

FBISD is modeling its clinics after Austin ISD’s School Mental Health Centers, a program AISD started in 2011. Like AISD, FBISD is partnering with Vida Clinic to staff the centers with licensed therapists.

Laura Rifkin, the director of program development at Vida Clinic, said Vida clinicians see many mental health challenges in school-aged students.

“We approach [school-based mental health] through an ecological lens, which means we’re really looking at all of the systems that impact our young people in the school ... so ... we’re also able to provide therapeutic services for their family members, as well as for staff in the school,” Rifkin said.

Tracy Spinner, AISD’s director of comprehensive health and mental health, said AISD has seen improvements in students’ mental health outcomes, academic performance and discipline since opening its clinics. Data shows AISD students who received mental health services had an attendance rate of 94.65%, 2 percentage points higher than a control group.

“When we begin to really look at this data, it’s powerful,” Spinner said. “And this data held true for elementary, middle and high school.”

Shiels said school counselors will facilitate mental health referrals from concerned school staff, teachers, social workers, parents or the student themselves. Before Vida Clinic therapists can administer services, the parent and student will participate in an intake process where students will be evaluated and their course of treatment will be determined.

Shiels and FBISD trustee Kristin Tassin said having clinics directly on campuses combats the stigma around mental health, improves school safety efforts and reduces barriers to mental health resources.

“I think the ideal is to have [clinics] in the school, so there’s this acceptance of mental health,” Shiels said.

Tassin said she hopes the centers reach the right students.

“To me, success would be being able to find students [that need services], and then being able to support those students and help those students as they try to work through these challenges,” Tassin said. “And then help them to get educated and give them an opportunity to have a successful future.”
By Claire Shoop

Claire joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2019 as the reporter for the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2019 where she studied journalism, government and Arabic. While in school, Claire was a fellow for The Texas Tribune, worked for the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, and spent a semester in Washington, D.C. She enjoys playing cards with her family and listening to the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.


As of April 3, Fort Bend County is reporting 221 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, up from 194 just one day prior. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Latest coronavirus news in Sugar Land, Missouri City: Confirmed cases in Fort Bend County top 200

Here are the latest coronavirus-related developments from around Sugar Land, Missouri City, Fort Bend County and Fort Bend ISD.

Houston Airport System officials expect March passenger data to be significantly lower than in other months. Foot traffic at IAH was light March 24. (Emily Heineman/Community Impact Newspaper)
TSA limits checkpoints at George Bush Intercontinental Airport; Houston Airport System expects significant decline in March passengers

With low passenger travel amid the coronavirus pandemic, Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at George Bush Intercontinental Airport have been consolidated to make better use of resources and personnel, Houston Airport System officials said.

Prices are more of an indicator of real estate activity during the coronavirus pandemic than location or geography, a local Realtor said.
ROUNDUP: 5 recent coronavirus stories from the South Houston area readers should know

Catch up on some of the latest coronavirus updates for the South Houston area below.

The $2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act—also known as the CARES Act—provides millions of dollars in relief to small businesses nationwide. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce shares information about small-business relief programs

Community Impact Newspaper sat in on the chamber's webinar in order to share answers to frequently asked questions about the CARES Act.

Volunteers unload food donations for the Montgomery County Food Bank. (Courtesy Drive West Communications)
ExxonMobil makes $250,000 donation to local food banks

The energy company said the Houston Food Bank will receive $200,000, including $50,000 in gasoline gift cards. The Montgomery County Food Bank will also receive $50,000.

(Beth Marshall/Community Impact Newspaper)
PEOPLE FEATURE: Former intern Mike Goodrum steps into Sugar Land city manager role

Formerly the city manager of Coral Springs, Florida, Goodrum got his start in city government as an intern for the Sugar Land Parks & Recreation Department.

Left to right: Salim Nathani, Noureen Nathani and Sadruddin Currimbhoy are members of Bright Offerings' board. Bright Offerings aims to economically empower people through apprenticeship programs. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)
NONPROFIT: Bright Offerings connects candidates to companies and colleges for apprenticeships

Bright Offerings, a Sugar Land-based nonprofit, has worked to economically empower 75 job candidates through its apprenticeship program in the past two years.

Over the last decade, Fort Bend County’s population grew from 584,699 to 811,688. (Courtesy Pexels)
Fort Bend County one of fastest-growing counties in Texas, United States last decade

In the last decade, Fort Bend County's population grew by 38.8%, making it the fifth-fastest-growing county in the state by percent growth.

The employees of The Adventure Begins Comics, Games & More gather their characters together in "Animal Crossing: New Horizons." (Kate Looney/The Adventure Begins Comics, Games & More)
5 recent business stories from the Houston area readers should know

Read updates on how local businesses are reacting in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prices are more of an indicator of real estate activity during the coronavirus pandemic than location or geography, a local Realtor said.
Q&A: Houston-area Realtor describes changes in business during coronavirus outbreak

Prices are more of an indicator of real estate activity during the coronavirus pandemic than location or geography, a local Realtor said.

This is a test kit for COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Courtesy National Institutes of Health)
UT Physicians opens coronavirus testing location in Missouri City

Individuals must have an order from their health care provider and call to make an appointment before arriving for testing.

Many renters in the Greater Houston area may be faced with struggles paying rent amid the coronavirus outbreak. There are local resources located throughout the region that can help. (Courtesy Pexels)
Struggling to pay April rent? Here are some resources in the Greater Houston area

The deadline for April rent is looming as renters—both in public and private housing—in the Greater Houston area may be struggling financially in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.