FREEPORT — From a 7-year-old learning to ‘use his words’ or a 13-year-old starting puberty, kids of any age can struggle with their emotions. Add in other factors — troubles at home, bullying, bad grades — and those kids can become overwhelmed without a clue what to do.
That’s why Brazosport ISD partnered with Community Health Network to bring free mental health services to give extra guidance to its students who struggle the most.
“There are a variety of things that a student may need to see a counselor for,” BISD Superintendent Danny Massey said. “They could be suffering poor academic performance. It could be a student struggling with bad choices ... students struggling to get along with peers, students who had no shelter, no place to go. Students who are homeless.”
After recognizing a need to bring services to students whose families may not have the money for counseling or the time to take them to a counselor, BISD started looking for a solution. They struck a deal with Community Health Network to bring Domonick Crane, behavioral health counselor, to five of their schools.
“I’d say the highest topics would be depression and anger management or anger,” Crane said. “Usually it’s from a combination of both school and family issues. Even ones that are not necessarily in broken homes, children are not always able to deal with the emotions they do feel.”
At school, bullying is a major factor. Crane said middle school students can be especially sensitive to that because “they’re trying to find a place and having identity issues so a lot of them just don’t like themselves because they’re confused all the time and a lot of times that leads to depression.”
In his seven years of counseling, Crane said he’s noticed depression go up equally in boys and girls, especially rates of suicidal ideation. But anger issues seem to be highest in boys, especially ones with no positive male figure in their lives.
“My key thing is I got to get them to open up,” Crane said. “Once they open up, we can deal with those issues. Some of them are easier because they’re more open ... but some are harder. It’s like baking a cake without a recipe. We’re just putting things together and hoping it will come out OK.”
Crane isn’t doing this solo, though. Community Health Network also offers what people in the field call “telepsychiatry”, where kids can work with a therapist via live video.
“There have been so many mental health crises in schools and there are so many students that need services,” Community Health Network Spokeswoman Penny Pabst said. “If our counselor identifies, or parent or school counselor identify a need for psychiatry, then we can do telehealth with psychiatrists for those kids.”
BISD offers other services, too. Massey calls them “wraparound” services, partnerships with different nonprofits or local liaisons to deal with specific issues, like student poverty.
“It’s the adults in the school that know the kids the best,” Massey said.
Solutions extend beyond just bringing in the experts. A team effort between BISD officials, teachers, counselors and parents is the best way to solve the issues students might be facing and prevent mental health crises.
“One of only things that hasn’t changed over time is the classroom,” Crane said. “We’re teaching the same way our grandparents and parents were taught. Students sit at a table and listen and talk. For the angry boys I see, a lot of their frustration comes from there because they’re not allowed to be creative and learn the way they like to learn. Schools need to make classrooms different.”
Despite only being half a school year into the program, teachers and counselors have reported seeing a major, positive change in students benefiting from it, Massey said. And in Crane’s experience at other schools, inviting counselors to work with students always yields positive results.