Skip to main content

Feature: Building Safe and Supportive Schools for All Texas Students

What makes students more likely to graduate and have positive life outcomes? Research gives us critical insight. Students need school and community support to learn skills to manage their emotions, make responsible decisions, and establish and maintain relationships.

In 2019 the Texas Legislature passed multiple bills to increase availability and access to mental health resources for students and families across Texas. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) was required to coordinate the collection of data, train educators, and report findings. TEA recognized an opportunity to enhance existing work streams, expand current partnerships, and build new supports for schools as part of a unified strategy emerging from this legislation. 

Julie Wayman, Director of Mental and Behavioral Health in the TEA Supportive Schools Division, told us, “Increasing awareness of what mental health means and the resources and information available for students and families is critical. Before the passage of these bills, mental health literacy was nonexistent on a large scale.” 

We can do more together

TEA was already engaged in significant work in student mental health through a Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) grant and routinely engaged with the 20 regional Education Service Centers (ESCs) throughout the state, providing training and professional learning opportunities. 

“To build integrated services for students and schools, we sought partners working on similar initiatives,” Julie Wayman said. TEA partnered with: 

  • Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) 
  • South-Southwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (SSW MHTTC) at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin 
  • Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health (TIEMH) at UT Austin 
  • Region 14 Comprehensive Center (R14CC) 
Five children with their arms around each other put their heads together and smile down at the camera.

“It made sense to bring our partners together to have a collective impact on the work that we were doing and put all of our gifts and talents together to achieve our shared goals.”

Julie Wayman , Director of Mental and Behavioral Health in the TEA Supportive Schools Division

Then Came COVID-19

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the extended shutdown of schools further compounded the need for mental health assistance. Schools struggled to shift to virtual learning and fundamentally redesign instruction with little time to prepare. Students were isolated from their peers and other caring adults, such as teachers, coaches, and counselors, who were integral to their daily lives.  

37% of students strongly agreed or agreed that they felt close to persons at school. Only 47% of students experienced poor mental health (most of the time or always) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: CDC: Mental Health, Suicidality, and Connectedness Among High School Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic — Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, United States, January–June 2021

Image representing two statistics: 27% of teachers self-reported symptoms consistent with clinical depression. 53% of teachers surveyed said they consider leaving the profession more now than before the pandemic. The percentages "27%" and "53%" are in navy blue circles above the two statements.

Source: CDC Foundation: Mental Health Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Teachers and Parents of K-12 Students (2021)

 

 

Our Approach

R14CC collaborated with TEA and their partners to provide comprehensive support to stakeholders at the school, district, regional, and state levels.  

Texas School Mental Health Resources Database

In 2021, R14CC and TEA worked with 20 regional Education Services Centers (ESCs) to design a database to streamline data collection, better validate data quality, and publish publicly searchable results. In April 2022, the Texas School Mental Health Database was launched, allowing users to search for available resources within their region, county, and school district. This directly supports the goals of the Statewide Mental Health Plan.  

 

Texas School Mental Health Practice Guide and Toolkit

R14CC joined stakeholders from TEA, Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), and South-Southwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (SSW MHTTC) at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin to contribute to creating the Texas School Mental Health Practice Guide and Toolkit. The final product includes a statewide framework for school mental health, 47 tools, samples and templates, and comprehensive information to help practitioners implement the framework.  

 

Texas School Mental Health Website

R14CC provided feedback on the new Texas School Mental Health Website and forthcoming Safe and Supportive School Programs virtual training modules developed by TEA's Project AWARE partners. 

 

Collaborative Task Force on Public School Mental Health Services 

House Bill 906 set up a new Collaborative Task Force on Public School Mental Health Services, which TEA administers. R14CC provided support as the task force worked on its required legislative report, including designing high-quality focus groups and providing facilitation training to members as part of data collection activities.  

Three panels of screenshots taken from Texas School Mental Health webpages.

Learning Together

After 2 years of working together, R14CC, TEA, and its partners have learned several critical lessons that inform our future efforts.

  • Arrow pointing to text

    Flexibility is key.

    Working across multiple state agencies, responding to legislative directives, and dealing with a global pandemic contributed to constantly changing policy and cultural situations that impacted our work. Timelines must frequently be adjusted and focused on achieving the stated goals and outcomes.

  • Arrow pointing to text

    Partnerships and ongoing stakeholder feedback are critical in creating the best possible product to meet user needs. 

    Texas schools, districts, and ESCs have endured many unforeseen challenges over the past 2 years. They need tools and resources that are evidence-based, usable, and ready for implementation. They also need implementation support from TEA, which means the work is constantly evolving to identify and address those needs.  

  • Arrow pointing to text

    Integrated communication between partners ensures the work is moving forward and addressing challenges in real time.

    R14CC meets weekly with partners in the collaboration to discuss projects and status updates, collect and offer feedback, and build our collective internal capacity. We continue our work to strengthen TEA’s ability to increase the availability and accessibility of school-based mental health resources across the state.  

 


“Our partnerships have allowed us to bring the statutes to life and make mental health supports accessible to all people. We can talk about it to a greater extent and support each other and our schools during this critical time. Whether it's the tool kit, resources for families, or support for educator wellness, we've put it all in one place that makes it easy and accessible.”


 

Julie Wayman , Director and Interagency Liaison for the Safe and Supportive Schools Division at TEA