Bringing mental health to the forefront

Breaking stereotypes and negative cycles in seeking mental health assistance is always a challenge, especially when it comes to communities of color. Monica Zumaya, a mental health clinician at Samuell High School, is on a mission to change that. 

“Things such as generational trauma, the cycles, and how we can heal from them are some of the things we discuss,” Zumaya said. Because she is passionate about the subject, she is not afraid to talk about the issues that have had a profound impact on students.

Zumaya, who has worked for the district for 16 years, believes that change comes from educating the students. 

“Sometimes students grow up feeling like they need to hide their emotions, that crying is weak,” she said. “Some of these stigmas are embedded in culture. I teach them that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to have emotions or cry. Teaching students and parents communication skills is part of the process.” 

One of the things that she has noticed is the trauma that can come from being a newcomer to the country. 

“I’ve had students that have endured traumas such as losing a parent on the way to the United States and homelessness—things that have dramatically changed their lives,” she said.  

She has witnessed firsthand the different challenges that students and families may face, through the different roles she has served in the district. The trajectory of Zumaya’s career spans from having worked in different schools as a clerk, an office manager, a community liaison, a social worker, and her current position as a mental health clinician with Mental Health Services.

When Zumaya first began working at Samuell as a community liaison, she hit the ground running. She worked with a group of parents to successfully grow the Parent Teacher Organization and became a senior class sponsor, instilling in the students the value of volunteering and giving back to others. 

One common thread has always remained true in these diverse roles Zumaya has played, and it’s her love for helping others. 

“When I went into social work, I went in with the goal of doing more community outreach and advocacy, but then I started getting into mental health, and I loved the counseling aspect of it,” she said. “When I was a social worker here at Samuell, I conducted group and individual counseling sessions which I loved.”

According to her colleagues, the impact that Zumaya has had on the students and community runs far and wide.  

“Monica is deeply committed to her role as a mental health clinician. She is understanding, empathetic, and supportive,” said Jennifer Jones Jackson, lead counselor at Samuell. “She has helped students, families, and staff through some of the most challenging situations.  She never hesitates to lend a helping hand or a listening ear to those in need,” 

Jones Jackson added that although Zumaya’s role is at the district level, she does not let that define how she contributes to the Samuell community. 

“Through the work she is doing with students, we are able to see positive changes in student grades, attendance, and overall connectedness to school,” added Jones Jackson. 

One can often catch Zumaya greeting students and checking backpacks in the morning, a task that is not part of her job duties, but one that she performs happily because having that connection to students and families at the school is a priority to her. She lets them know that she’s there to help. 

Zumaya also recognizes the importance of mental health services districtwide. 

“The department has grown tremendously over the last few years,” she said. “Dallas ISD has the largest mental health department than any other school district in the state with supportive leaders. I love that because it shows that Dallas ISD is putting an emphasis on mental health. They’ve hired more clinicians and see the need on campus, especially after covid.”

As far as plans for the future, Zumaya wants to continue working together with the students at Samuell. 

“I plan to stay here and be the consistency that the kids need,” she added. 

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