Tomball ISD will unveil a three-tiered mental health initiative this school year after receiving a nearly $125,000 grant from the Tomball Regional Health Foundation, said Michael Webb, assistant superintendent of student support.
“We did a community health needs assessment last year in 2017, and one of the things that it identified was the need to enhance the mental health education and training in our service area,” foundation CEO Lynn LeBouef said. “Tomball ISD wanted to accelerate [its]districtwide mental health model and provide training to all [its]personnel on identification of students who may have some mental issues and getting them into proper therapy and care.”
The grant-funded initiative includes implementing in-person mental health training for all teachers and administrators in collaboration with the Center for School Behavioral Health, partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for presentations on mental illness and implementing substance abuse assessments and interventions from Teen and Family Services, Webb said.
“In general, mental health is becoming more and more of a barrier to learning in schools. One in 5 students have a mental health condition, and 80 percent of those conditions are undiagnosed,” he said.
Mental health training, education
In August, all TISD teachers and administrators will receive training to understand the signs and symptoms associated with mental health.
“This really is becoming a barrier in school districts to really where teachers have become default mental health providers whether we like it or not,” Webb said. “Now we’re asking them to deal with all of these mental health issues, but we really haven’t given them the resources or the training.”
Webb said he considers enhanced mental health support to be part of TISD’s commitment to keep students and staff safe.
“Now it’s a part of our safety package—it’s a part of our plan to keep school safe. I feel it is as important as the facility modifications and accommodations to ensure a safe school,” Webb said.
In partnership with NAMI, secondary students will also hear presentations by young adults who have overcome mental illnesses, Webb said. He said he expects up to 45 sessions to be held throughout the school year to educate parents and students.
Additionally, NAMI will provide student support groups to which TISD officials can refer students for help with battling mental illnesses.
Assessments, intervention groups
In collaboration with Teen and Family Services, TISD will also implement RISE, a program focused on restoring, instructing, supporting and educating students about mental health and drug and alcohol use, Webb said.
Teen and Family Services will offer assessments and interventions for students within the disciplinary process or referred by parents or teachers for likely substance use. The grant provides funding for a full-time clinician to complete assessments showing the level of substance use, Webb said.
RISE goes hand-in-hand with disciplinary measures in place at TISD, as students found under the influence of alcohol or drugs receive disciplinary action and often spend time at TISD’s Connections Academy, Webb said. With assessments, Teen and Family Services can refer students to intervention groups for longer-term support as well.
“For so long we’ve been handling substance use issues in our school as a disciplinary issue—and not that [discipline is]not part of the package—but we also want to address the behavioral health side of it,” Webb said. “Without addressing the behavioral health side, it continues to become a barrier in learning.”
Webb said he hopes the enhanced mental health support will increase student attendance, decrease the number of days students spend at the alternative education center and lower recidivism rates among students.
“In many cases, discipline alone didn’t correct the issue, because we’re not dealing with kids that are bad; we’re dealing with kids that are ill,” he said. “[Assessments] will give us the resources to differentiate between which ones are making bad decisions and which ones might have a disorder.”