HHS senior cowrites bill advocating for student mental health

Jesse James Guerra, a Harlingen High School senior, has a passion for history and politics—something that his teachers noticed when he was a high school sophomore.

After seeing how he always presented both sides to an argument in his history writing assignments, they recommended that he apply to join South Texas Youth Congress, a nonpartisan student group that provides high school students an opportunity to experience public policy.

STYC allowed him to take part in the process firsthand.

Together with two other high school students and a state representative, they worked on writing House Bill 3898, a bill that called for establishing a pilot program to employ a life skills counselor at public high school campuses.

“We found out through our studies that there is a lack of counselors in public schools, not just here in the Rio Grande Valley, but also in the state of Texas and the United States,” Guerra said. “So, then we said, ‘OK, what can we do?’”

The group first submitted a proposal to representative Armando Martinez.  Then, they worked together with J.M. Lozano, the district’s 43rd representative at the time to write the bill.

The entire process took them more than two years to complete.

The Life Skills Advisor pilot program, HB 3898, passed the Youth Health and Safety Select Committee.

However, on May 11th, 2023, its journey in the 88th Texas Legislature ended. The bill was on the calendar for a second reading, but it was not read before midnight.

“At this point, the bill is already dead,” Guerra said. “But I am going to hit it hard again once the committee starts again. I already sent a letter to the governor, and I talked to his chief of staff.”

Guerra continues to be a student advocate and has not given up on this bill.

“To do something like this, you really have to care about individuals,” Guerra said. “I took almost three years to do this. I put my heart into it, and I am going to fight till the end. I would like to spread the message that students like me can make changes. If we see something and want to make a change, nothing is stopping us.”

Guerra is currently senior class president, vice president for the Law Club, and a Hope Squad team leader at Harlingen High School.

In the future, Guerra hopes to go into political law.

“I just want to be an advocate,” he said. “I love public service, and I love talking. I want to help people, and I want to make things right.”