District Mental Health Initiative Progresses
This year Dripping Springs ISD is in the first year of implementation of a mental health initiative to enhance social-emotional support for our students. Progress has been made this fall on many fronts since school started in August. Many aspects of the mental health initiative align with elements of Senate Bill 11, which was passed during the last legislative session.
All employees are engaging in Mental Health First Aid training this year. Mental First Aid Training is a skills-based training that teaches participants about mental health issues, helps them recognize a person in need of assistance, and provides tools to support those in need until they can connect with professional help. Several rounds of training have been held – reaching 600 staff members – and another 350 are scheduled in January.
The district also has taken action from a staffing perspective, adding two elementary counselors (each serving half-time at two campuses), a middle school mental health professional shared between the two campuses, and one full-time professional at Dripping Springs High School. These staff members will work closely with counselors to address student mental health needs and support students in crisis. In their first six weeks, nearly 50 students have been referred to these professionals.
The district Social Emotional Learning Committee, which is comprised of counselors and teacher representatives, is doing the groundwork to identify various resources being used at all campuses. The group, which also will be evaluating the SEL culture of the district, is being led by DSHS Assistant Principal Dr. Joe Green and middle school mental health professional Kim Bird.
The Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC) also has identified priorities this year related to mental health. That group will: review SEL-related curriculum, support parent education, and discuss how to increase awareness of resources.
Also supporting awareness and education on mental health topics are the Parent University sessions being held at all four elementary campuses this year. Two were held in the fall and two others will be held in the spring. This series is being coordinated by elementary PTAs and counseling departments, with funding from the Dripping Springs Education Foundation.
In fact, the Dripping Springs Education Foundation has been a key reason the district has been able to take these positive steps. DSEF committed $215,000 for the current fiscal year, and plans to continue to support this initiative in future years.