How We’re Supporting Schoolchildren’s Mental Health   

May is a time to raise awareness, reduce stigma, share resources, and advocate for policies that support people living with mental illness and their families. This year’s theme of “Together for Mental Health,” has a strong connection to how we approach our work in the community. At Brightpoint, we embrace trauma-informed, prevention-focused solutions that center on child and family well-being.   

You can see these values in action at Schubert Elementary School, a Chicago Public School with 600 students, ages 5-13, where one of our therapists, Alex Martinez, offers counseling for kids who may be struggling in school or at home with mental health challenges.  

“Children are so relieved to have someone to talk to, who won’t judge them but who wants to help.”  

Alex Martinez, bilingual school therapist, Brightpoint 

Alex sees an average of 20 children and their families each week. “When kids first come to see me, they don’t know me, they are nervous and unsure of what to expect,” Alex explains. “I use games, art activities, even magic tricks to get them to connect and feel at ease. Once they start trusting me it just flows. They’ve been holding in so much.” 

Alex is a particularly important asset to the team because he is bilingual, and many of the families at Schubert speak Spanish in their home. He has often found that he is able to develop a special connection with families because of his background. “I relate to many of the families I see at Schubert because my parents also came to this country as immigrants, with a sixth-grade education, and still speak Spanish at home.” Alex reflects.   

“I’m able to empower parents and children and say, ‘You don’t have to struggle, it’s ok to see a therapist and ask for help.”  

Alex Martinez, bilingual school therapist, Brightpoint 

The need for children’s mental health services has grown exponentially since the pandemic. Children’s behavior at school often reflects the stress they are experiencing at home, with families facing overwhelming financial stress, and the grief of losing friends and relatives to COVID-19. “We have seen a huge increase in the number of families seeking help in the last year,” says Diane Buitron, supervisor of the school-based program. “We will never turn anyone away. We’re there to do anything we can to stabilize the family. It’s all about prevention.”  

Alex agrees with Diane that the families he serves are facing tremendous financial pressures, especially now. In addition to providing therapy, he often connects children and their families to practical support such as food pantries, rental assistance, job training, and domestic violence services. “Sometimes parents may be unfamiliar with the ins and outs of accessing assistance,” Alex shares. “I’m able to listen as they describe the barriers they are facing and then link parents to the support they need.”  

Alex recounts a story of one little girl who was referred to him because she was struggling in school, frequently breaking down in tears in class. After meeting with her, Alex learned that her family was facing eviction, and the young girl was witnessing her mom in distress as she tried to deal with the prospect of becoming homeless. “I was able to meet with mom and connect her to rent assistance services. She needed a job, and it turned out there was an opening for a lunch assistant in the school, so I helped her apply for the job,” Alex says.   

“If we can address the basic problems parents encounter, it helps both the children and the family.”   

Alex Martinez, bilingual school therapist, Brightpoint  

Over 90 percent of Schubert students currently live in homes with low incomes, and families are voicing the need for more mental health services and concrete support for food and essential goods, as well as legal assistance and housing services. Our leadership team has helped to build a strong partnership with the school and active parent community to respond to this need.  

“Our goal is to create a truly trauma-informed community school that improves students’ social-emotional and academic success while also promoting family well-being and self-sufficiency,” Diane notes. “Staff like Alex are a critical part of how we’re able to remove the barriers that prevent families from engaging in mental health services and other community resources.” 

Brightpoint recently received a two-year, $300,000 grant from the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation to expand our partnership with Schubert so that more children and families in Chicago’s Belmont-Cragin neighborhood have what they need to thrive. This grant is the latest private foundation investment in our behavioral health program at Schubert Elementary, which began in 2016 with just one mental health therapist. Now through this grant, our agency can serve nearly four times as many children and their families.   

Our community and funding partners, along with individual donors, help make school-based programs like the one at Schubert Elementary possible, ensuring that families have the tools and resources they need at the first sign of difficulty. During National Mental Health Awareness Month, we encourage our supporters to think about the importance of providing opportunity—at every point possible—for families to tap into their potential, overcome obstacles, and create the safe, nurturing environments their children need to flourish and grow. Thank you for walking alongside families with us this May, and throughout every month of the year.  

If you’d like to learn more about the mental health services, we provide to Illinois children and families in Illinois, visit our Mental Health & Wellness page to find a program tailored to your needs.