CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — School is in full swing for Coastal Bend-area schools, and in addition to class and extracurriculars, we're seeing a growing emphasis on mental health resources.
In this, "On Your Mind," district officials with the Corpus Christi ISD spoke with 3NEWS about the mental health initiatives the district has in place for students, their families, and staff.
In addition to counselors across each of the 57 campuses, the district also has 14 mental health specialists, social workers and in recent years, has introduced new programs to better be there for students.
In the wake of the Uvalde school tragedy in May, paired with the ongoing challenges amid the global pandemic, feeling safe and healthy at school has remained top of mind for parents everywhere.
Dewayne Couch is the proud dad of two teen boys who attend Veterans Memorial High School. He shared with 3NEWS that he adopted the brothers just last year, changing their lives and certainly his.
"Completely changed it, for the better of course. You have a different perspective on things," Couch said. "Anything with my kids, playing board games, I don't think they realize that time with them is one of my de-stressors and one of my opportunities to work on my mental health."
Navigating the new school year, the ongoing pandemic, and just the challenges that come with being a teen in general...it can be a lot. Couch said he feels it's important that he checks in with himself, and that his children do the same. He shared some things that have worked well for his family.
"Stay involved in school. Get physical activity, a good night's rest. All electronics power down at bedtime," said Couch.
"I might ask them, 'did something fun or exciting happen today?' Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't. Then that lets them narrow in on something that was fun or exciting and that helps keep that open dialogue, and the boy knows they can come talk to me anytime."
It's incredibly important for students to have that safe space at home, but also the place where they spend the bulk of their days.
"We understand here at CCISD for our students to be academically successful, they have to have positive and healthy mental health," said Maria Iyescas, a mental health specialist with Corpus Christi ISD, who explained that within the last couple of years there has been a renewed focus for the district when it comes to mental health initiatives.
In addition to the support offered by counselors at each campus as well as social workers, some of those initiatives include:
- Transitional coaches for middle schoolers that can offer individual therapy, group therapy and family therapy, made possible through a grant by school-based Health Care Solutions Network.
- TCHATT, which is in its second year running with the district, is offered at every high school campus. It allows students to receive free therapy online through an actual therapist. Sessions can happen during the day.
- A self-care button across all campus pages that are age-appropriate and accessible to parents as well.
- The CCISD Caring Corner: which is a room open to students and their families to pick out clothing, hygiene products and school supplies at zero cost to them.
"A lot of people take it for granted that you can go to the store and buy deodorant, or go to the store and go buy shampoo. Or school supplies or even those new pair of shoes for school, and in reality, a lot of our families are struggling right now, with the economy," Iyescas explained. "So that’s just one barrier we can knock down for our students to be successful in a school environment."
In addition to establishing important mental health resources for students, Iyescas shares it's also important that teachers have access to additional support as well.
According to Iyescas, each CCISD employee and their families can receive up to 5 free therapy sessions. It was also last year that the district started what's called the Hearts & Minds retreats for teachers and staff.
“These are free retreats, where it’s a half-day about 4 hours long where our teachers come and we just do self-care. So we bring in yoga, we brought in meditation, guided-imagery..."
Courtney Rios, the district's coordinator of Guidance and Counseling, works very closely with Iyescas and all counselors and social workers to ensure students and parents always have access to these resources.
"The world of school counseling has definitely evolved to serve more than the academic purposes as well," Rios said.
"There has been an increase in anxiety in small children and depression systems in small children. We have trainings with our elementary counselors starting at the elementary level to be able to address some of these needs that may need additional mental health support."
Rios explained there is at least one campus counselor that is their point of contact for families/parents/students that may need more support. From there, counselors then have the discretion to reach out to the social work mental health team in a referral format in order to get that additional support.
"If a counselor, through that conversation with a student, feels that a parent may need to be notified or consulted with, then they can reach out to the family," said Rios who also explained that the mental health department can also do home visits.
"We meet the students on individual needs and respond to different crises, different mental health concerns, substance abuse concerns with the student and the family."