Holding HISD Accountable


Ifraah Shegow

The Student Support Center or SSC is the location for Westside High School’s social worker, which has fluctuated in its numbers throughout the course of the last few years. Having only one social worker responsible for the entirety of a single school after the toll of the pandemic and virtual learning.

Superintendent Millard House II for Houston Independent School District, the largest school district in Texas, had announced five priorities in molding a five-year strategical plan for the district based on students, employees, and parents largely on providing equitable resources and opportunities. This takes into account the main issue of accommodations to the social and emotional needs of students as the district’s superintendent puts emphasis on, stemming from the issue of the pandemic. However, I believe the district’s response to the impacts of the pandemic is evidently late and delusional. The consequences to students had prevailed throughout the previous virtual school, affecting their abilities and motivations for this school year entirely.

In his 100-day report as superintendent, House shares his accomplishments and newfound priorities for the district. He accentuates his upcoming plan as being, “bold and innovative.” House restates these new priorities in developing a more equitable education for all students and emphasizes for change in the midst of the school year. The accomplishments of the district are based upon finances, supplies, and the general transition to in-person learning for this school year. But where are the resources for social and mental health? What are the priorities for students to get back on track not just academic achievements, but in the social development as well?  Resources are seemingly not prioritized. The investments for counselors and tutors are made on those with the greatest needs. According to Jessica Dickler’s CNBC article, “Virtual school resulted in ‘significant’ academic learning loss, study finds,” it found that an overwhelming majority of educators reporting to have seen learning loss in their students during the virtual school year. A majority had also estimated their students with stumped social-emotional progress.

According to Tulane University article, “Understanding the Effects of Social Isolation on Mental Health,” the pandemic had mostly impacted students’ social abilities from being in constant isolation, which affects their abilities in building relationships, interacting with others, and seeking for guidance. I had developed independence so much during virtual schooling that collaboration was uncomfortable almost. This correlates to impeding with academic abilities as well in performing group assignments and consultations. It creates this domino effect that jeopardizes their performance in school and in life.

In Cory Stieg’s CNBC article, “How the pandemic killed your motivation, and 6 simple ways to get it back, according to science,” the motivations of students are also disrupted coming into this school year after being impoverished and placed with various new restraints with the pandemic eliminating the foundation for passion in autonomy, competence, and relationships. The main consequence from the pandemic is the prosperity of students and their futures. This is all rooted in the availability of mental health resources and the lack of district authority in addressing it properly before the start of this school year.

To gain perspective from a student, the pandemic and the year of online schooling affected my own social, emotional, and mental state tremendously in comparison to my academic performances. In fact, a press release from UNICEF titled, “Impact of COVID-19 on poor mental health in children and young people ‘tip of the iceberg’,” had stated, “at least 1 in 7 children has been directly affected by lockdowns, while more than 1.6 billion children have suffered some loss of education.” The consistent isolation and lack of human connection promoted a sense of pessimism mindset that impacted my entire life till this day. The contributions of a destructive and warring social media, the chaotic circumstances of the nation beyond the pandemic, and newfangled responsibilities I had with family and basic necessities was extremely staggering. This vastly differs from my disposition before the pandemic in school as a freshmen, eclipsed by curiosity, stability, and the euphoric sensations of being in this awe-inspiring school. It is incomprehensible in understanding the contrasts of myself between these two time periods.

And now, in the middle of the 2021 to 2022 school year, my mental and academic progression have not yet reached in par to my freshmen year status. I actually feel like I am still trying to transition to that work ethic and self-drive I had before with worsening habits.

I think its important to provide equitable resources and opportunities for all students regardless of their situation, which HISD properly acknowledges primarily on the curriculum and educational programs. It overshadows the necessity for social and mental health supplies entirely. In the instance with Westside High School, the Student Support Center is the location for guidance, including where its social worker is. However, the school has decreased in the number of social workers during this school year where students are overwhelmingly need of support and counseling, contradicting with these new goals of the district. I cannot even grasp the idea of having a single counselor in handling the hundreds of students on-campus.

HISD is responsible for nearly 200,000 students across Houston, yet it seems to not take their successes and mental health seriously. It makes priorities beyond the given devastating impacts of online school on students and school staff and faculty. Mental health must be openly grappled with, taking initiatives in funding these resources of social workers, programs, and classes educating students on their health. The district is committing an ultimate disservice for its students as it undermines our growth in school and only setting our futures for failure.