Mental well-being is a priority for our students

Dear DSISD Families,

The health and well-being of our students has always been one of the highest priorities in our district. In recent years, educators have become increasingly aware of the critical role that the mental health of students plays in their overall happiness.

This awareness has emerged at the local level, the state level, and the national level. In fact, the state’s safety plan released prior to this school year pointed to student mental health as a main priority.

Recent legislative discussion also has focused on student mental health.As the importance of this issue has been on our radar in DSISD, we have discussed potential ways we can support our students in terms of their social-emotional well-being. 

Individual campuses have implemented programs focusing on kindness and anti-bullying. Our counselors continue to be very sensitive to warning signs that indicate certain students may need extra support. We have used therapy dogs at some schools. We have helped direct students and families to community resources when appropriate. We have offered educational programs to students and parents on topics like social media safety and the dangers of substance use.

While many campus-based programs have been successful, we recognize that as a district we need to move towards a more unified and comprehensive approach to student social-emotional health.

In the fall, we implemented a survey exploring the social-emotional needs of our students. We have examined these results and have continued to research programs and models that address mental health in schools.

This spring, I pulled together some key individuals from our campuses to form a Task Force to delve deeper into this issue.The Task Force has been busy and I wanted to share with you an update on what we have accomplished.

We have taken the following actions:

• Continued to look at various public school models of providing social-emotional support to students;

• Interviewed licensed social workers in other districts to see how they developed their programs to support students;

• Made connections with local mental health authorities and regional organizations to see what services are available and what partnerships might be possible (and many have reached out to us);

• Researched options for expanding our support services to potentially include face-to-face time with full-time mental health counselors, “telesupport” mini-sessions, small-group counseling, and other delivery methods;

• Considered cost implications for various models of support;

• Drafted a strategic plan to address the social-emotional health of students with a mission statement, project description, defined audiences, and action steps with timelines

For Year One of the plan – the 2019-20 school year – we have three main steps we plan to take. They are:

• A full-time mental health professional will be added to the staff at Dripping Springs High School.

• A half-time counselor will be added at each elementary school in addition to the one full-time counselor.

• All staff will complete “Mental Health First-Aid” training, in conjunction with Hill Country MHDD.

We know this plan will be fluid over time as we adjust to changing conditions and additional data. We also plan to explore funding options to support our work in this area.

Addressing the mental health and social-emotional needs of our students is a component of overall school safety, which is also a priority in Dripping Springs ISD. We believe that providing students with the support they need or connecting them with professionals who can do so is an important step to prevent situations where students feel a lack of control or a sense of helplessness.

DSISD and all seven schools look forward to working hand in hand with our students, parents, counselors, teachers and staff to support the social-emotional well-being of our entire Tiger family.

Bruce Gearing

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