HOUSTON – Support for mental and physical health tops the list of Houston Independent School District student and parent needs, according to a new survey from Rice University Kinder Institute’s Houston Education Research Consortium.
The 2021-22 HISD Student Needs Survey was distributed during 2021 to approximately 43,000 students (grades 3-6 and 7-12), 8,000 parents (of students in grades pre-K-12) and 5,600 HISD staff (about 269 campuses) administered -2022 academic year. They were asked to identify needs across five categories: health, mental health, basic needs, home learning environment and enrichment activities. Parents were also asked about legal services related to immigration and naturalization.
“We worked closely with the district’s Student Support Services department to provide crucial information about the pressing needs of students and families across the district,” said Kori Stroub, HISD’s associate director of research for the Children’s Institute and one of the study’s lead authors. “The district’s leaders already knew their students needed support outside the classroom and instituted a wraparound program to address that need. Now we have data that shows where additional resources can have the most impact.”
Mental and physical health were top concerns among survey respondents — more than half of parents and students experienced stressors in the past school year — and staff ranked student mental health support as the No. 1 priority for their campuses. While parents cited cost as the biggest barrier to accessing mental health services, students said they were “nervous or embarrassed to ask for help.”
Regarding physical health, about 20% of parents reported that it was difficult to get dental appointments and general checkups. A third of students reported seeing an eye doctor less than once a year, and more than half of teachers said vision care was an unmet need in their classes. When asked about barriers to accessing these services, parents cited cost and lack of health insurance. Students most often said they were too busy to make or keep appointments.
In terms of other needs, 22% of parents had difficulty paying their rent or mortgage and 20% had difficulty affording transportation. And 23% of students said they had changed their living situation more than once in the past few years.
Finally, the survey revealed that some parents (8%) had difficulty accessing immigration and naturalization services – mostly due to cost and language barriers – while students and parents who took the survey in Spanish reported higher needs about the whole line reported compared to those who took the survey in English.
Looking ahead to how school districts can address these findings, lead researchers Stroub and Camila Cigarroa Kennedy offered the following recommendations:
Improve access to mental health support by addressing high costs and social stigma.
Make sure everyone has the opportunity and resources to attend annual doctor, dental and vision appointments.
Connect families with free or low-cost resources that will help them pay for housing and transportation.
Facilitate access to affordable immigration and naturalization support.
Target support services on high-need campuses.
Make sure information about support services is available in Spanish for both students and parents.
“This year, HISD prioritized additional resources to address mental and physical health through a variety of programs under the Student Support Services Division,” said Candice Castillo, executive officer of student support services at HISD. “In addition, HISD newly required a counselor or social worker, nurse and librarian in addition to the previously required case specialist at each campus. Most recently, HISD approved a significant investment creating access to telehealth services for its students.”
“It is clear that these needs are greater than the district can provide on its own. That’s why we’re also helping HISD identify organizations and community resources that can expand access to critical services,” said Stroub. “It is not enough to know there is a problem; we must solve these challenges so that students have a better chance at success both academically and in life, and we are committed to supporting HISD as they continue to expand non-instructional support for students.”
Visit https://kinder.rice.edu/centers/houston-education-research-consortium to view the Kinder Institute’s survey results and accompanying reports.
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