Mental, physical health support top list of needs for Houston Independent School District students and parents

Photo of student and parent holding hands.

Mental and physical health support tops the list of Houston Independent School District student and parent needs, according to a new survey from Rice University Kinder Institute’s Houston Education Research Consortium.

The 2021-22 HISD Student Needs Survey was administered to approximately 43,000 students (grades 3-6 and 7-12), 8,000 parents (of students in grades pre-K-12) and 5,600 HISD staff (across 269 campuses) during the 2021-2022 academic year. They were asked to identify needs across five categories: health, mental health, basic needs, home learning environment and enrichment activities. Parents were also asked about legal services related to immigration and naturalization.

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“We worked closely with the district’s Student Support Services Department to provide crucial information on the urgent needs of students and families across the district,” said Kori Stroub, associate director of HISD research for the Kinder Institute and one of the study’s lead authors. “The district’s leaders already knew their students needed support beyond the classroom and have put in place a wraparound program to address that need. Now we have data showing where additional resources can have the most impact.”

Mental and physical health were top concerns among survey respondents —more than half of parents and students experienced stressors in the past school year -- and staff ranked student mental health support as the No. 1 priority for their campuses. While parents cited cost as the top hurdle for accessing mental health services, students said they were “nervous or embarrassed to ask for help.”

When it came to physical health, about 20% of parents reported difficulty getting dentist appointments and general check-ups. A third of students reported visiting an eye doctor less than once a year, and more than half of teachers said vision care was an unmet need in their classes. When asked about barriers to accessing these services, parents cited cost and lack of health insurance. Students most frequently said they were too busy to make or keep appointments.

Turning to other needs, 22% of parents had difficulty paying for their rent or mortgage and 20% had a hard time affording transportation. And 23% of students said they changed their living situation more than once over the past couple of years.

Finally, the survey revealed that some parents (8%) had difficulty accessing immigration and naturalization services — mostly because of cost and language barriers — while students and parents who took the survey in Spanish reported higher needs across the board when compared to those who took the survey in English.

Looking ahead to how school districts can address these findings, lead researchers Stroub and Camila Cigarroa Kennedy offered the following recommendations:

§ Improve access to mental health support by addressing high costs and social stigma.

§ Ensure everyone has the opportunity and resources to attend annual doctor, dental and vision appointments.

§ Connect families with free or low-cost resources that will help them pay for housing and transportation.

§ Facilitate access to affordable immigration and naturalization support.

§ Target support services to campuses with high rates of need.

§ Ensure information on support services is available in Spanish for both students and parents.

“This year, HISD has prioritized supplemental resources to address mental and physical health through a variety of programs under the Student Support Services Department,” said Candice Castillo, executive officer of student support services at HISD. “Additionally, HISD has newly required a counselor or social worker, nurse, librarian in addition to the previously required wraparound specialist at every campus. Most recently, HISD approved a substantial investment creating access to telehealth services for its students.”

“Clearly these needs exceed what the district can provide on its own. That’s why we are also helping HISD identify organizations and community resources that can expand access to critical services,” Stroub said. “It’s not enough to know there’s a problem; we need solve these challenges so students have a better chance at success both academically and in life, and we are committed to supporting HISD as they continue to expand non-instructional supports for students.”

To view the Kinder Institute’s survey results and the accompanying reports, visit .