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What's the Plus?

My Students Deserve a Dedicated Intervention Specialist

By Janet Diaz

My school, Applied Learning Academy, is moving to a new building this year, and with that there have been lots of questions. For the past several years, Applied Learning Academy and International Newcomer Academy have shared buildings and some staff: Custodians, cafeteria staff, school resource officers, and so on. With the move, it is not a guarantee that our intervention specialist will come with us full time. There are some intervention specialists in our school district who split their time between two campuses.

This year in particular, I have lost track of how many times I have called Ms. De La Paz, our intervention specialist, with questions and concerns. Students breaking down crying in the middle of the hallway. Students writing concerning comments in the Google Meet chat. Students sharing with each other that they’re not eating at lunch. Students emailing me to let me know that they are on their way to a funeral. Parents texting me of the passing of grandparents. Parents telling me that their family has COVID: their daughter, their nephew, their newborn. Parents dying. The proximity to loss and grief is ever-present.

Knowing Ms. De La Paz is there to support and advocate for my students, calms me and makes me feel supported. As Fort Worth ISD makes changes for next school year, the district must ensure that each school building has its own intervention specialist who can take care of our students five days a week, so they are receiving all the services they need during this pandemic and its aftermath.

Earlier this year, I led a mental health advisory with Ms. De La Paz’s guidance. Throughout the modules, we talked about mental illness and mental health as they relate to the lives of our students. Some students chose to explore the topic through the analysis of anime characters, while others opted for more practical avenues, such as researching mental health resources. As my students came across websites that triggered the district alert system, Ms. De La Paz was immediately at my classroom door, double-checking that their searches were class related and not because they were in a harmful situation.

One day in class, my peripheral vision caught sight of Bella in the corner of the room tearing up as her Chromebook loaded. I grabbed the tissue box on my way out the classroom and we stepped outside. Bella spoke about her mom being in jail and all the emotions she was carrying. She needed someone to help her process all of this. I had a class waiting for me and I had a student who visibly needed someone trained to handle such moments. I called Ms. De La Paz, and within moments she was there to listen to and care for Bella. This would not be the last time she’d return to speak with students who were in a crisis.

As a teacher, I know only too well that schools need a professional trained to provide the support many of my students need. The district must guarantee an intervention specialist for our school, not just two days per week but full time. Chaos, uncertainty, and stress do not happen on a two-day schedule; the support of a mental health professional is vital for teachers like me and for my students and their families.

When my school moves to a new building this fall, we need an intervention specialist like Ms. De La Paz who can be there for our students each day. All the other FWISD campuses need a dedicated intervention specialist as well. Bella and all the other students deserve nothing less.

Janet Diaz teaches social studies at Applied Learning Academy in Fort Worth ISD. She is a 2020–21 Texas DFW Policy Fellow.

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