Story by Roselle Tenorio. Photos courtesy of Student Success Agency.
The mission at Student Success Agency (SSA) is to empower every person to harness their agency and fulfill their potential to discover new horizons for themselves and the world. The digital platform provides personal agents for each student, helping them access the learning and counseling resources they need. Rubi Franco Quiroz is one of SSA’s leaders who oversees oversees company impact and student safety. Rubi transitioned into a full-time role in order to coordinate the safety for SSA’s students, which has become even more crucial since COVID-19. Students lost open access to a large portion of their safety net when schools shut their doors, and are now facing new challenges like increased isolation and unknowns that require additional support.
Student Success Agency began as a start-up idea from two Dallas area students and has grown into a 200+ agent model, working across the country to scale one-on-one attention for students in a digital world. Just last year, they won The Vote Grand Prize from the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Social Innovation Accelerator. Rubi and the rest of the leadership team is a diverse group of individuals working to redesign and reshape the thought of what it means to support students on their journey to adulthood. SSA has a tutoring, general support, and agent platform for students in need of varying levels guidance. SSA partners with school districts and individual schools to provide their services to students; WT White B-Tech High School is one of their Dallas partner schools. However, as COVID-19 has affected Texas, SSA has offered their support services targeted for middle school and high school aged students, even those not at a partner school, free of charge. Registration is available at studentsuccess.co/support.
On the support platform students have access to all of SSA’s services: tutoring and homework problems, SAT/ACT prep, college/scholarship advising, essay writing, strategies for adjusting to at home learning. Rubi and other agents have faced new challenges supporting students during a pandemic. Being isolated at home has some students itching for new challenges, and others facing increased mental distress. Rubi has seen a trend with the students who already had a mental health diagnosis face increased distress and challenges. She described several students “not having access to meds. Due to COVID-19, the pharmacies are backed up and they are unable to access their doctor for dosages readjustments.” Before the pandemic, SSA could rely on their school coordinators on-site to find resources for students and connect students to the school counselor but now with school staff stretched thin by at home learning, SSA has opened a counseling service to help not only students in need but also be a cooperative partner with the schools.
The team at Student Success Agency had already implemented several safety protocols before COVID-19 that have helped them to be ahead of the curve. Rubi described how their tech department has a keyword vetting process for all communication happening on their platform. The tech department reviews flagged conversations for context and hands over cases to Rubi, who categorizes the safety concern and develops an appropriate action plan. For example Rubi explains that, “stage 4 is a threat to themselves or others, stage 3 is mental distress,” and then diminishes. Rubi explains that, “ during a mental health crisis, priority one for their students is deescalation.” A general outline of Rubi’s case management approach to mental health concerns includes validation of the student’s experience, finding out the resources they need, working to address them, and referral to counseling services. SSA has a licensed clinical social worker to oversee all of the cases and an attorney to help find resources for the student, navigate family relationships but still stay within boundaries while getting students the help they need. Retroactively, cases are reviewed for additional keywords to be added to the tech department’s database to make sure they do not miss any mental health concerns.
While the SSA tech department is crucial in maintaining safety in a digital world, the unique one-on-one attention provided by agents that their organization is known for, is the first line of precaution. Agents are safety trained and are given a mental health guide to help them assist students, who often trust them more than others. The agent often becomes the best person to engage the student in a mental health action plan because of the trust developed. There is also a safety hotline that is available on demand to agents and students that can self elect to call.
While safety protocols have to be standardized, SSA works diligently to individualize and ensure every student has access to someone to talk to about their unique challenges. Rubi speaks to middle school students getting ahead on PSAT prep, juniors worried about their senior year and college application experience, seniors considering gap years and still trying to celebrate their success, freshmen in college thinking about transferring to community college, undocumented students awaiting a Supreme Court decision any day now, and foster students with at-home learning challenges. Rubi says COVID-19 has “challenged us to learn and educate ourselves on a lot of varying student realities.” SSA has taken hold of learning moments and adapted to serve students of different backgrounds.
Rubi has seen a significant impact of teaching mindfulness especially during the middle school aged stage of life. She states that “the act of reflecting before acting is a practice of mindfulness that becomes a habit and provides a sense of stability in times of increased challenges like now during COVID-19.” Rubi is hopeful that mental health and mindfulness will continue to develop into a core component of the education system like it has for SSA and its partner schools. The CEO, EJ Carrion, hosts a live zoom video call Monday through Friday from 1-4 CST that any student can join in to practice mindfulness, study, check in, and hang out together, you can join here: studentsuccess.co/studyhall While the usual summer camp that brings agents and students together will not be held this year, the Student Success Agency is still here for all students and Rubi is confident that “we will get through this together.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, please dial 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For help finding a mental health resource, call the Here for Texas Mental Health Navigation Line at 972-525-8181.