The Story Of Tomball Independent School District
Located just over 30 miles northwest of Houston, Tomball ISD in Tomball, Texas is an innovative and proactive district that prioritizes the mental well-being for all of its 15,800-plus students in grades K-12. The district implemented a comprehensive multi-tiered system of support (MTSS), called the Behavioral Health System of Care, to help get to the root causes of students’ behavioral issues.
“With one in five students suffering from a mental condition, students often go undiagnosed,” said Dr. Michael Webb, Assistant Superintendent of Student Support at Tomball ISD. “Students’ cries for help often manifest as misbehavior, so our district focuses on restorative practices that get to the root of our students’ problems.”
The Behavioral Health System of Care was created in partnership with local mental health institutions, such as the Harris Center of Mental Health & IDD Services and the MD Anderson Cancer Center, in addition
to education providers such as PresenceLearning.
The system encompasses 14 different programs, including mental health first aid training, assessment and intervention services for students suspected
of a substance-use disorder, online SEL modules that students can complete as an alternative to suspension, multiple training programs for teachers and administrators, a mentoring program, a
mobile crisis outreach team, online counseling with PresenceLearning, and more. The district used federal Title IV funding to partner with PresenceLearning starting in the 2018-19 school year.
“Our goal is to have a total of 800 of our students utilizing our mental health services,” said Dr. Webb. Of these students, nearly 100 receive online counseling through
PresenceLearning at any given time. Participating students, who are identified by the Student Intervention Team (SIT) as potentially having a mental health condition, receive the counseling as part of a six-week program created as an alternative to traditional discipline.
“Each student’s counselor, principal, and teacher come together to discuss the student holistically and determine if tele-counseling could provide an effective solution for them as a Tier 2 support,” said Tweaka Dilek, Program Specialist for Intervention and Instruction at Tomball ISD.
PresenceLearning’s certified school psychologists work with the students to provide counseling via the company’s proprietary, online platform. The weekly, 30-minute sessions are intended to help students build their SEL skills, such as calming techniques for self-regulation and identifying emotions such as anger and stress.
“Our parents were not sure about tele-counseling at first because it was online, but as soon as we started, the benefits were evident,” said Dilek. “Many of our parents want to get counseling services for their children, but there are not a lot of providers available in our area. Tele-counseling gives students access to those needed services.”
“I’ve had parents recently thank us for offering tele-counseling and tell us how much their children enjoy it,” added Dilek. “The students especially like the anonymity of the process—they know they won’t run into their psychologist out in the community so they are more open.”
After the six-week program, the SIT determines if each student should be dismissed from the program or moved to Tier 3 supports. Throughout the program the PresenceLearning school psychologists track student goals, as well as conduct check-ins with the onsite counselors to share information and discuss student progress.
“PresenceLearning has been a very positive experience for our students. We have ten of our students receiving services and a waiting list of several others,” said Lachelle Nix, Counselor at Tomball Memorial High School. “The students are enjoying their sessions and receiving the help they need. This program has helped students who cannot retain a therapist on their own—sometimes because of cost, and sometimes because of scheduling issues. I am grateful we have this resource for our students.”
“I was impressed with how quickly our PresenceLearning counselor was able to establish rapport and move towards the real issues,” continued Julia Harrison, a Counselor at Lakewood Elementary School. “One student, who had been having frequent behavior outbursts in class, labeled himself as a ‘bad kid.’ The counselor explained that there are no bad kids, just bad choices. She said, ‘I need to hear you say that you are not a bad kid—say, I’m a good kid.’ He couldn’t do it. She kept at him and after a few minutes, she got him to mumble, ‘I’m a good kid.’ And in that moment, I knew she found success. She found the issue and moved to a solution in her first half hour session with him, isolating one of the root causes of his struggles. She had his trust, and had what to focus on for the remainder their sessions.”
From an administrative side, the district team uses the PresenceLearning platform to track how many students are enrolled in the counseling program at any given time and how many are meeting their goals. This functionality, called the MTSS tracker, was added to the platform based on feedback from Tomball and is now available to all PresenceLearning district partners. “The tracking feature is really beneficial for us,” said Dilek. “It gives us another point of data when we are looking at our students using a whole child approach.”
This whole child approach—and focus on restorative practices and students’ mental well-being—has yielded very positive results for Tomball ISD and the students
it serves. “Even with our student population increasing, we’ve seen a 71% decrease in in-school suspensions and a 21% decrease in out-of-school suspensions over the last 12 months,” said Dr. Webb. “Our Behavioral Health System of Care, including our use of PresenceLearning, has played a big part in these decreases.”