On Monday, January 11, the Denver Public Schools Budget Advisory Committee will meet to recommend the allocation of funds from the recent mill levy override. As a member of Our Turn, I’m urging the committee to uphold DPS's commitment to students and community members to address the social, emotional and mental-health needs of all students and employees, “focusing on our prioritized students,” as the Board of Education stated in its 2020 Crisis Priorities.
Since these crisis priorities have been announced, there has been no new funding to support increased mental-health services. We are asking that the mental-health funds provided by the 2020 mill are used to do the following:
If permanent funding for the trauma-informed practices team has not been secured, use necessary mill funds to ensure the long-term stability of that work in accordance with the 2018 Board of Education Resolution declaring DPS a Trauma-Informed District.
Use the balance of the approximately $3.5 million earmarked for mental-health supports to establish a pilot program that staffs mental-health counselors, whose primary responsibility would be supporting DPS improving mental-health outcomes for students.
I have managed my fair share of mental-health struggles without the support of a proper mental-health counselor. It was hard managing the rigorous coursework, after-school activities, at-home duties and, on top of that, being in an environment that was not very welcoming to students of color.
It wasn’t until my junior year that we had received native Spanish-speaking teachers, and if it wasn’t for their support, I would not have done well. However, it was not their responsibility to be my shoulder to cry on, because they had their own struggles, and I would have liked for somebody to support them, as well.
A mental-health counselor has different training than a social worker or a college counselor. As a first-generation college student, I had no idea how to go about filling out the FAFSA or applying to colleges, and it didn’t help that my college counselor spent her time being a mental-health counselor rather than a college counselor, which took away from the level of support I needed alongside other students. Then, in situations when I or other students gravely needed someone to talk to, we were either sent back to class, due to there being “rules,” or briefly allowed to talk to a staff member, which took away from their own personal time. Not to mention that staff members, especially staff of color, have their own mental-health issues to deal with on their own.
At my high school, the majority of staff and students were white, so staff of color also endured pressures without having needed support. They are expected to address moments of racism, and yet are targeted themselves, or looked down upon because of the color of their skin or language.
I believe that hiring at least one mental-health counselor per school would supply students and staff with more support. Mental health impacts not only your mental but your physical and emotional state as well. These new staff members would remove so much pressure from staff members who already have enough going on with their own lives and jobs. As for students, it would allow them to have a safe space inside the school where they can address any issue they may have.
Some students just don’t have anyone to talk to, and some may even come from households that don’t believe depression, anxiety, etc. are real, so they are unable to even believe themselves that it is an actual issue. Moreover, during the pandemic, mental health has become a huge concern for a lot of people, especially because of the shocking transition to online learning and other personal factors that may contribute to a deteriorating state of mind.
I urge the Budget Advisory Committee to vote in line with the Our Turn recommendations for the mental-health funds provided by the 2020 mill levy override. This presentation includes much of the information we’ve learned that has led us to asking for these new resources to be directed where they can have the highest impact.
Paola Gascot is a member of Our Turn. She graduated in 2020 from DSST-Byers in Denver Public Schools and is a freshman at the University of Denver.