October 16, 2018
On Sunday, I was the featured guest on Over the Lege, the very funny comedy show that promotes itself as “Your favorite (some would say only) Texas Legislature political satire show.” I wasn’t really supposed to do much more than be in a serious Q&A with the show’s creator and general funny person, Stephanie Chiarello.
The last bit of the Q&A included two actors who played like they were also senators. Stephanie would ask a question, I’d answer as myself and then the other two “senators” would give funny answers. One of the senators had a football with him and all of his answers somehow related to football.
At one point, out of nowhere, this thespian senator unexpectedly jumped up from his chair with his football and pointed for me to go long for a pass. This was all improv.
At that precise moment, I reverted to my 13-year-old self. No hesitation. No words. No thought. I was immediately on my feet and running across the stage in slick boots. I was in a zone. I juggled and bobbled the less than perfect pass for what seemed like about 10 minutes as my feet went out from under me and I fell on stage. All I could hear was the voice of my father saying, “If you can touch it, you can catch it.” And, “Don’t take your eye off the ball.”
I caught that pass.
Someone told me the whole thing looked like this:
The crowd, of course, went wild. The catch felt great, but the fall and the getting-up didn’t feel like when I was 13. Even two days later, several body parts are reminding me that I’m not 13.
But did you hear? I caught that pass.
Helping Young Minds
Our community has really stepped up to address a huge issue facing Austin ISD.
We learned this past summer that Austin ISD might have to close school-based mental health clinics on 16 secondary campuses due to changes in the requirements for the federal program that paid for the clinics.
Let me give you an idea of how important these clinics are. According to a recent CDC report, 12% of Texas teenagers said they attempted suicide in 2017. The national average is 7%.
We know that half of all chronic mental illness cases will present for the first time by age 14, more than 20% of children age 9-17 are diagnosed with a mental illness and 70% of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness.
In AISD schools, academic counselors were spending more than half their time supporting students’ mental health needs, when their scope of work anticipated only 25 percent of their time going to this important service. Among all AISD campuses in 2017-18, academic counselors provided 1,689 sessions for self-injury, 3,577 sessions for suicidal thoughts and 378 sessions for attempted suicide, and 2,689 sessions for other mental health crises.
All this to say, we could all use some good therapy and not nearly enough people, especially kids, have access to such services. That’s why I’m so proud of our region leveraging every opportunity to provide on-site clinical support for students.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding. Students receiving services at a school-based mental health clinic had higher rates of attendance over the course of the school year, improved academic outcomes, fewer disciplinary actions and fewer substance use offenses.
So closing these clinics would’ve been a real set-back for a lot of folks in our community.
Fortunately for all of us, there’s a shared sense of responsibility among our public entities and Integral Care — our local mental health authority — and Central Health — our healthcare district — found some money to help Austin ISD to close part of the funding hole.
To fill the remaining gap, Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz and I convened a meeting of this group with local philanthropic organizations.
At last week’s Austin Ed Fund luncheon, we announced that The Austin Community Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, St. David’s Foundation and Ascension Texas Foundations have all stepped up. The gap for this school year has been closed and funding secured for a consultant contract to develop a sustainable funding source to ensure the school-based mental health clinics continue to be available to AISD students, staff and parents in future school years.