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Health & Wellness
On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

After Uvalde, ‘all things crisis response’ for Dallas ISD mental health counselors

Texas School Shooting
Eric Gay
/
AP
A banner hangs at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School to honor the victims killed in last week's school shooting, Friday, June 3, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Dallas ISD’s Mental Health Services Department supports children and their families through life and learning challenges. After Executive Director Tracey Brown learned of the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde where 19 children and two adults were killed, she said it was “all things crisis response support” for her and the clinicians she oversees.

The department provides school and clinic-based services to more than 230 campuses across the district.

“It was the end of school. But we know that just because school ends, that does not mean that [kids’] trauma, grief, and emotional reaction to that type of event ends,” Brown said. “Our goal is to make sure that even going into the summer, we’re providing support.”

In the department, licensed counselors based at schools help students with anxiety, depression and life changes. 12 Youth and Family Centers across Dallas also offer psychology and psychiatry support to kids and their families. There are about 160 people on staff, and Brown is hopeful the upcoming school board budget will include funding for 40 more counselors to continue to provide services.

Brown said that even before an event like the Uvalde shooting, many students are dealing with compounding traumas from abuse, neglect or exposure to violent situations. This means they might experience heightened anxiety, grief and fear hearing or experiencing a school shooting. She said it’s important to note it’s not a one-time conversation with students.

“Those effects don't go away,” Brown said. “They may not go away in a month or a year or long period of time. So how do we continue to provide for our students and give them the skills and the tools?”

The department is gearing up for more training and support heading into the 2022 school year, to equip both the counseling staff and teachers to recognize how trauma can impact students’ learning.

“At the end of the day, we're trying to make sure that they are college and career ready, that we send them out in the world with the tools that they need to be successful,” Brown said.

Texas School Shooting
Eric Gay
/
Associated Press
Visitors pay their respects at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School created to honor the victims killed in last week's school shooting, Friday, June 3, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.

For families and caregivers who are helping their students cope, she said the most important thing is to take time to process.

Brown encouraged people to let kids know “it's okay that if you need to talk about it, or if you just want to go away and be silent. Just finding that safe space to process. Do you feel sad or upset or some sense of anxiety about the situation? That's normal, and that's okay.”

Her department has guided more than 144,000 students across the district through the COVID-19 pandemic the last few years. Now, they are helping students process trauma events like the Uvalde shooting. Brown said that’s a tall order.

But she wants students to know that there’s a team of people who care about their well-being every single day.

“I think it's really important that we help create a culture of support in Dallas ISD, and that every one of us knows that we're not in this world by ourselves,” Brown said. “We're not going through this experience by ourselves. And I think we find our strength in numbers, in locking arm and arm to really make this happen for our students.”

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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