Schools across the country have closed their campuses, quickly sending students into a new world based in distance learning.
According to EAB, an education research and technology company, “Recent surveys show superintendents in every state identify ‘adolescents in crisis’ as a top concern in their schools as serious mental-health-related crises now affect more than a third of adolescents in the U.S.”
Which is why the Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) focused in on mental health support as soon as the shelter in place order was issued.
“Even prior to the shelter-in-place order, research from School-Based Health Alliance shows that 70 percent of children who receive mental health services access those services at school,” said Lissette Moore-Guerra, SCUSD’s Coordinator of Health and Wellness. “With this in mind, and considering the breadth of pre-pandemic support offered at all of our sites, SCUSD recognized and prioritized the need to continue offering support to our students and families.”
The district spent the first couple of weeks making sure the process was HIPAA compliant and that the services offered were safe and meaningful. Now, they’re working on making sure that the families are aware that these services are available.
“I would say it’s been most active at the high schools…when our form went live at two of our comprehensive high schools there were students reaching out five minutes after that thing went live,” said Kathy Marek, SCUSD’s Mental Health Program Coordinator. “Especially at our middle schools, we know that there’s a need…Some are more able to self-advocate and others they’re not aware that they’re maybe gaming all day to avoid feeling anxious around what’s happening.”
At the elementary school level, the district is trying to offer parent support, where parents have a chance to work with a wellness coordinator on what’s working for students and what’s not.
“What are some strategies; whether you can tap into the wisdom of the group in terms of what are other people trying?” said Marek. “You have a wellness coordinator there with some suggestions of things to try. It’s a time for the parents to connect with one another, and then also to get some help. Because none of us were homeschooling before this.”
The Health and Wellness department is also working with district teachers, many of whom are not only working from home but also trying to guide their own children in distance learning.
Marek says the next step for the department is reaching out to specific groups of students.
“One of the things that we’re realizing is our students who are LGBTQ or gender fluid may not be out at home,” said Marek. “We’re hearing from students that they’re feeling more isolated because school was their place to be out in a comfortable way. So, we’re trying to create points of contact like clubs that we’re meeting on site that we’re trying to get those up and running so that kids have a safe space.”
Parents and students can request a wellness check-in by clicking on the link on the front page of the school district’s website.
Marek says parents can also look out for signs that a child might be struggling.
“It’s going to vary by age group, but if your child does not seem to be themselves…or if you see your child may be more emotional than they usually are. Or maybe they are sleeping 14 hours a day,” said Marek. “We really look for a change in behavior. If they’re not able to engage. If they’re having a hard time completing normal tasks that before were totally not hard for them. That’s a time to just get curious…reach out and say, ‘Can somebody check in with my child?’”