AUSTIN, Texas — There are puppets and paint, tambourines and toys in Cook Elementary School’s new mental health center. The play is serious business, it is therapy.
“What we have at the school mental health clinics are certified clinical therapists, who are providing assessment and also in some cases diagnosing mental health conditions and providing clinical therapeutic treatment,” said Tracy Spinner, Austin Independent School District’s director of health services.
Therapists also provide training to teachers and administrators, too. Austin ISD’s new initiative aims to provide mental health services to students and their families on campus. There are now clinics at 22 elementary schools across the district.
“The benefit of having them on campus is number one not only accessibility, but there’s also that trust and that relationship that has been built with the campus and the community,” Spinner said.
These schools are located in neighborhoods where there is high crime, lack of transportation or other barriers for some families seeking support. The clinics helps students who are survivors of crime. In this first month, 300 students have been served.
“Students who have received therapy through the school-based mental health centers are attending school more frequently, they have better attendance than students that have not received services, they are out performing their peers academically, we see decrease in discipline, we see decrease in expulsions from school,” Spinner said.
The initiative is made possible through a $4.5 million grant from the Criminal Justice Division of the Governor’s Office. AISD plans to get more funding to sustain the program and add 30 more mental health centers by the fall 2019 school year.
“We hope that (students) take away a sense of hope and a sense of renewal in that, there isn’t anything wrong with them,” Spinner said. “But they’re helping us to understand them better and how we better provide services for them.”
Elementary school mental health center locations:
- Pecan Springs
Locations across Austin on the map: