SAN ANTONIO – Over the last year, more than $12 billion in federal funds have been allocated to address mental health and school safety nationwide.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was signed into law on June 25, 2022, in response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde that took 21 lives last May.
Some of the funding went to districts like SAISD strictly to increase the physical safety of the campuses, called “hardening schools.” They are installing extra cameras, buying new radio systems, stronger glass, and more protective doors, among other efforts.
The most recent round of funding went to the University of the Incarnate Word to help place more mental health professionals in our schools.
As UIW transitions its School of Physical Therapy into the School of Occupational Therapy, the $5.2 million will be distributed over five years.
“Occupational therapists work on physical, cognitive, emotional, social skills to help people engage in the activities that are important to them,” said UIW assistant professor Dr. Marcie Campbell, director of research grants.
Campbell said occupational therapists must be utilized for school mental health teams. She mentioned that as she spoke on a panel Tuesday when U.S. Sen. John Cornyn visited San Antonio to see how the federal money was being spent.
Campbell explained that the money would be used in three ways.
First, part of the funds would be used to place eight UIW graduate occupational therapy students and five school psychology students at Southside and South San Antonio ISD campuses. That increases the number of mental health professionals serving in the schools while allowing the students to complete their required internships for their degrees.
“There is a mental health workforce shortage crisis,” Campbell said.
Second, UIW will create trauma-informed care training for teachers and educators, giving them tools to help their students.
Third, UIW will create a pathway program for high school students in SISD and SSAISD to transition into the mental health care field. The high school students will learn about mental health careers and get experience, training, and advising to help pursue mental health careers.
“It takes a while. You can’t just turn it on. You have to have the trained professionals, which takes time. And I appreciate the educational institutions that are involved in that,” Cornyn said.
Cornyn said he realizes there is much more work to do but sees this as a strong start to increasing mental health care in our nation’s schools.
Campbell’s team includes Dr. Monica Clark, Dr. Dailen Castillo, Dr. Jessica Maxwell and Dr. Ruth Ford, who she said will be working diligently on these projects over the next five years and beyond.
The results could lead more people to long-term mental health careers locally, where there’s the most need.
Watch and interact with KSAT’s Special Project, “One Year In: Uvalde.”
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