South San ISD’s Commitment to Mental Health Awareness

As May represents Mental Health Awareness Month, the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) has partnered with the South San Antonio Independent School District (SSAISD) to establish the Pathways Program. This initiative aims to provide students with training and exploration of professional careers in mental health. They will be able to learn and achieve opportunities for themselves to become mental health providers. Let’s explore the components of this program and the benefits it offers to students who choose to participate.

The Mental Health Service Professionals (MHSP) Grant developed the pathways program. This grant aims to increase the number of mental health professionals in the school systems to address the needs of every student. This will be South San Antonio High School’s first year implementing this program, which is currently only offered to senior students on campus.

Ms. Chloe Guillen, Pathways Program Specialist, is pivotal in guiding senior students through the program. The program operates during regular school hours, and Ms. Guillen works individually with students and holds bi-weekly group sessions to cater to their specific needs. Through group sessions, the Pathways Program offers practical training and mentoring, facilitating students’ exploration of various mental health professions.

During their introductory meeting back in the fall semester, Ms. Guillen explored the career guides of each mental health profession. She provided vital information about lesser-known fields, degree paths that can be utilized, and a soft timeline of their higher education. “From there, I can hone in on what the students want out of this program, and now I can personalize this experience for them,” Mrs. Guillen explained.

Image courtesy of South San Antonio ISD

Additionally, students in the Pathways Program learned about the stigma that exists within mental health and what that looks like in different fields. Ms. Guillen emphasizes the importance of building a strong educational foundation for her students to succeed in their collegiate years. In addition, learning the psychological motives behind stigmatization can propel students to engage in serious conversations on how our society can approach mental health more healthily.

Burnout is another crucial topic covered in the Pathways Program, a prevalent experience caused by mental, physical, and emotional stress. Ms. Guillen provided a space for students to participate in open discussions about their personal experiences with burnout. “I provide them the tools to take care of themselves, so they can be equipped to treat their future patients to the best of their ability,” Guillen mentions.

As part of their program experience, seniors in the program attended an educational panel that consisted of an occupational therapist, school psychologist, social worker, and a licensed practicing counselor (LCP) as a mentorship opportunity. The pathway students heard real-life stories about their professional journey and examples of their work responsibilities. Oriette Chapa, SSAHS Senior, expressed her experience in the Pathway Program. “I’ve been able to make connections with professors in Criminal Psychology, and now I have a clearer picture of what I’m going to do in the future,” Chapa stated.

In April, students accompanied by Ms. Guillen visited the University of Incarnate Word to explore the majors of Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Master of Kinesiology. They could create connections with professors, learn more about the programs offered, and attend a student-led panel to gain knowledge from a student’s point of view.

Pathways Program Member George Mendoza attended monthly meetings and one-on-one sessions, during which he visualized his future and gained a stronger perspective of the career paths in mental health.

“The career I want to go in is social work. I enjoy Ms. Guillen’s activities because they teach us about different careers and prepare us for our college classes,” Mendoza expressed.

SSAISD advocates for mental health resources, and the Pathways Program offers the skills necessary for the mental health field and aids in the personal development of all seniors. Alongside the Pathways Program, SSAISD encourages you to visit the CareZone Center at 2707 W. Gerald, San Antonio, TX 78211, where we offer no-cost mental wellness services for our South San Antonio community.