Challenges with Mental Health in Urban Public Schools

By Megan Yeager

Photo by Katerina Holmes from Pexels


After a year and a half of online learning and decades of scarce resources, an increasing number of schools are addressing the question of mental health resources in urban public schools. In order to build effective solutions, we must understand existing challenges to students’ emotional wellbeing. The Black and brown urban children who make up the margins of our society often have more obstacles to overcome than those white suburban kids at the center, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated that reality. The convergence of family and neighborhood violence and a lack of parental support systems create a perfect storm that schools must address or risk leaving some students behind.


Many students coming from urban schools don't just have to deal with their school's stretched resources, they are also facing turmoil in their personal lives. According to a 2019 study by Gollub et al., which surveyed students from urban charter schools and community-based settings, 41.7% of students had witnessed a shooting, stabbing, or beating, and a whopping 45.7% screened positive for lifetime PTSD. Students who witness acts of brutality when they go home almost certainly come to school with the memories of and trauma due to this violence, which can affect their behavior and academic performance. Without giving these children the skills needed to cope with their emotions in a school setting, they may be entirely without a support system.


As many families in urban public schools live at or below the poverty line, parents are often encumbered with many other stressors and responsibilities that have to take precedence over a close relationship with their child. Parents who have inconsistent childcare, unreliable transportation, and inflexible work schedules may not have time in their day to deeply engage with their child, to no fault of their own. This lack of engagement can have negative impacts on the child's mental health and behavior in school. A 2012 study by Polo, Zychinski, and Roundfield found that youth loneliness and depression scores were associated with direct support scores, meaning that students who received less direct support from their parents reported having higher loneliness and depression than those with higher parental support. When neighborhoods aren't safe, and mom and dad are busy with work, mental health problems can arise and students have no one to turn to and few coping skills on hand to deal with the strain they're facing.


Marginalized students in urban public schools are facing incredible obstacles to make it to class every day, but add on the effects of violence and a lack of parental support and these children are at a significant disadvantage compared to their more affluent, suburban peers. At Effective to Great Education, we recognize that these problems follow children into the classroom, and we have made it our mission to design technology that teaches them how to manage their emotions and give them the skills they need to make it through the year and onwards to graduation.