How can schools provide mental health services to students? Here are recommendations from an expert.


A Houston Chronicle investigation found that at no time since 2013 has any school district in Texas had nationally or state-recommended student-provider ratios in four positions that are critical to providing mental health support. to children – nurses, counsellors, social workers and psychologists. . School districts who spoke to the Chronicle said the problem was a lack of funding. But a Sanger ISD educator, Ann Hughes, offered solutions that largely don’t cost money. Hughes, director of social-emotional learning and behavioral intervention for the district, divides this effort into three levels.

Hughes has over 30 years of experience in education and is the Director of Student Intervention for Sanger ISD. Hughes has worked in a variety of educational settings, including traditional classrooms, special education classrooms, residential treatment centers, juvenile correctional schools, therapeutic educational day treatment programs and schools alternatives. She has a doctorate. in Special Education from the University of North Texas.

She shared her strategy for creating effective school behavioral health programs with the Chronicle.

A Houston Chronicle investigation found that millions of Texan children have been without the appropriate level of mental health care at school for years.

PART 1: Texas schools don’t have enough mental health providers

PART 2: 19-year-old with mental illness needed help but was instead killed in Harris County Jail

PART 3: A small school district in North Texas welcomes children facing serious mental health problems

EPILOGUE: How can schools provide mental health services to students? Here are recommendations from an expert.

To read previous episodes of this series, go to

Stephanie Lamm and Alex Stucky reported this survey while participating in the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2021 Data Fellowship, which provided training, mentorship, and funding to support this project. To learn more about the program, visit

Level 1

This level of care is for all students. Think of this prevention as an annual appointment with the doctor. This level of care will fully cover the needs of 80% of students.


School districts can develop, in conjunction with their advisors, a school-wide system to help students learn life skills to overcome challenges instead of punishing them for unwanted behavior. Schools can also use positive recognition for good behavior instead of singling out bad behavior. the Student Risk Screening Scale (SRSS), a free screening tool, can also be used to identify children at risk for non-academic problems. Counselors, as well as teachers, can incorporate behavioral health into the curriculum.

For this level to work, Hughes says the program needs a champion on all campuses and in central office. Teachers and administrators should participate in any positive behavior reinforcement training. Parents have a say in determining the school’s behavioral health policy and are offered training to continue these lessons at home.


School districts may pay a one-time fee to purchase software, such as why try or Training effects, to teach children how to deal with bullying, anxiety and unexpected changes, for example, as well as how to manage their feelings and understand empathy. They can also set up separate rooms, such as movement rooms or relaxation rooms, where children can go to regulate their emotions. These rooms cost Sanger $6,000 ISD per school.

Level 2

This level of care concerns approximately 15% of children. Think of it as going to a specialist. These students still need to get Tier 1 support.


School districts can create small group counseling programs for those who are grieving, for example, or who are being bullied. They can encourage relationships with school counselors by having students join the counselor for “lunch groups.” Teachers can let students use “Break Cards” that allow them to leave the classroom when they feel overwhelmed without making a big deal out of it. School-based jobs, such as working a coffee cart or peer mentoring, can also give at-risk children a sense of purpose and accomplishment they don’t get elsewhere.


School districts can identify children who need time in relaxation and movement rooms and can ensure that these students have scheduled breaks there. Districts may also pay additional funds to obtain specifically targeted courses for students on the Training effects software, such as vaping modules.

Level 3

This level of care concerns approximately 5% of students. Think of it as surgery. These students should still receive Level 1 and Level 2 support services.


Create and implement intensive plans after screening children for risky behaviors. Provide one-on-one anger management and social skills work with a counselor. Work with local agencies, including social services, hospitals, and treatment centers, to ensure the student does not fall behind in school if they need to take a school break.


Ask employees to complete the Living space crisis certification. This program teaches employees to better understand how to help children who have suffered serious trauma. Ensuring access to counseling services for these students may require hiring a Crisis Counselor or Global Services Coordinator.

The programs and software mentioned in this article are not endorsed by the Chronicle. This is the opinion of an educator based on her expertise and experience.


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