To Improve Climate & Student Engagement, Invest in Health

By Juan Taizan, California School-Based Health Alliance

The Student Perspective: Omar’s Story

For Omar, being a part of a gang simply meant he had other men from his neighborhood in whom he could confide, trust, and depend on to look out for him like a brother or son. These relationships often put Omar in situations where he had to stand up for his friends, which sometimes meant physically fighting other students.

After being suspended for one such fight, Omar was referred to his high school’s school-based health center (SBHC). The SBHC at his school makes sure students and their families have access to health care, but it also provides valuable health education – beyond what many teachers are able to do in the classroom – so students and parents can make better decisions that positively impact physical health, behavior, and academic success. As part of an agreement with the school administration, Omar’s suspension would be reduced if he agreed to participate in the SBHC’s Latino male engagement program and made an effort to improve his academics – Omar also had a D average and regularly missed a lot of school. Omar agreed. He met with a health educator from the SBHC several times over the next couple of weeks and created an academic improvement plan.

Because of the relationship he had built with the health educator, Omar agreed to join the SBHC’s after school program – Homies United in Solidarity to Teach, Learn, and Survive (HUSTLAS)–where he was able to connect with other young Latino men. He learned about Latino history and examples of men that fought for civil rights. After the sessions, Omar and the other young men often stayed to play football, soccer, or handball. Twice a week Omar showed up for the program. On more than one occasion Omar commented about he found it funny that for the first time in years, he was actually choosing to stay longer at school.

Omar was quickly seen as a leader in the program. He actively recruited other friends and family members to attend. He participated in other programs the SBHC offered, including a mural project, youth leadership retreats, and a talent show where he starred as the main character in a play about the school to prison pipeline. Omar was so proud of his commitment that one day he invited his mom to the SBHC to see the mural he and the other young men had created.

Over the course of his participation, Omar’s academics improved. He started attending school more regularly and admitted that most of the time this was so that he could attend the young men’s group. Teachers commented that his behavior in class had also improved. More impressive was Omar’s willingness to make and maintain new friendships with other students that were not from his neighborhood. Many of these new friends helped Omar with his school work and encouraged him to get involved in other youth leadership programs.

Omar didn’t graduate the top of his class and didn’t go on to a prestigious Ivy League college. Instead, he did something much more important and impressive: Omar survived. He graduated, learned a trade, and got a union job. He grew up, started a family, and bought a home. He achieved all of the goals he set out for himself.

Omar was the exception. Many of his friends did not have the same opportunities, and too many ended up dropping out, being locked-up, or not surviving. But Omar’s story can be replicated. His is an example of what can happen when school administrators invest in comprehensive health services and prioritize students who need support.

How Did the School Do It?

In 2006, the administration at Tennyson High School in Hayward was looking for better ways to support their Latino male students. Many of these young men were affiliating with local gangs and the number of on-campus gang related fights was increasing, leading to increased suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of Latino students. The school principal turned to the school-based health center (SBHC), sponsored by Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center, Inc., for support. Together, the principal and the SBHC initiated a Latino male engagement program.

The program elements included:

  • Enhanced referrals for support
  • Individual case management
  • Family support
  • After school programing
  • Alternative to suspension

For more on how to establish or expand your SBHC, check out Why School-Based Health Centers Matter or visit the California School-Based Health Alliance at www.schoolhealthcenters.org.

Why School-Based Health Centers Matter

Physical and emotional well-being are essential for a child to succeed in school. Yet, many children come to school suffering from conditions that seriously affect their attendance, achievement, connectedness to school, and dropout rates. Left untreated, these conditions can have a devastating and long-term impact. California’s school-based health centers are located in schools serving some of the state’s most vulnerable children. This chapter of “student Supports: Getting the Most out of Your LCFF Investment,” details how school districts can establish or expand their own school-based health centers to support progress on the LCFF priorities.

Collaborate to Innovate: Advance Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards through K-12 and Expanded Learning Partnerships

Collaborate to Innovate describes the opportunities for collaboration created by new K-12 standards and the Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs in California. The document outlines specific strategies and resources to support K-12 and expanded learning collaboration to advance high-quality STEM learning.

The Power of Partnership: The Vital Role FRCs Can Play in Schools

By Fiona Lavelle, California Family Resource Association

A strong partnership between a school district and its local Family Resource Center (FRC) can help with early intervention and lead to improved outcomes for students. FRCs can open access to an array of supports for students and their families and schools are valuable resources for FRCs. The following success story contributed by an AmeriCorps member providing case management in a school-based Family Resource Center in northern California demonstrates the power of these partnerships.

From our first meeting, Angelica was a bubbly, energetic student, but she’d been struggling in school and needed some extra support. Because of the existing relationship her school had with our Family Resource Center, her school counselor knew about the services we could offer a student like Angelica, who was facing challenges both at home and at school. The counselor referred her to our center because she was in danger of failing Algebra and losing her spot in a college preparatory program, and she had a feeling that her foster parents could use some help too. Angelica began participating in mentoring sessions and afterschool tutoring at the Family Resource Center, in addition to the lunch groups I conducted on campus twice each week as part of the partnership between our center and the school district. In these group sessions, Angelica learned to express herself through art, poetry, and discussions.

Relieved to finally talk about the difficult experiences she was facing at home, she told me about abuse she had experienced in her childhood, the separation from her sister, and the troubled relationship with her foster mother. She also opened up about her difficulties in math class. She struggled to understand key concepts and had been failing homework and quizzes. Because of our center’s relationship with the school, I was able to stay in close communication with her teachers and counselors. Together we made sure that Angelica had the support she needed to be successful.

The center provided her with school supplies and together we organized her math binder. She started to get higher marks in her binder checks and homework assignments and her teachers commented about the difference in Angelica’s attitude as her confidence grew.

As her academic performance improved, my colleagues and I wanted to be sure that her foster parents were also supported. Although her foster parents could provide for her basic needs, they often struggled financially. I referred them to a program that granted funding for school-related activities for foster youth, and they were grateful to finally have field trip money, which enabled Angelica to attend two field trips to Six Flags and UC Berkeley.

She shared her aspirations of attending college and becoming a famous writer one day. Together we discussed the steps she needed to take to get there and created a blog where she could upload her stories.

Angelica wrote me a letter at the end of the school year; she said that because of my help, she had passed her math class and was able to successfully finish the year.

The success of this student can be attributed to the strength of the partnership between the school and its local Family Resource Center (FRC), in which school and center staffs could seamlessly coordinate resources and information. The school and FRC followed some key best practices:

  • The FRC was integrated into the school, which made it easy for Angelica’s counselor to refer her to the center for early intervention.
  • The FRC case manager worked with school staff in a team, which facilitated fluid communication between the case manager and Angelica’s teacher and school counselor.
  • The FRC played a central role in working with the family.
  • The FRC had a strong presence at the school site. By leading regular groups on campus, students were familiar with FRC staff and barriers to participation were reduced as the groups were held in a convenient location.

Family Resource Centers are community-based organizations that provide comprehensive family support services to children and their families. Centers work in deep partnership with parents, teachers, school officials, and a vast network of service providers to facilitate lasting personal and academic growth for students.

For more information and best practices on partnering with Family Resource Centers to support LCFF priorities, see CFRA’s chapter: Why Family Resource Centers Matter. Or visit CFRA online at CaliforniaFamilyResource.org.

Why Family Resource Centers Matter

Children need stability in their lives at home in order to do their best at school. Research has shown that academic resources alone cannot compensate when children have unmet basic needs or their families are in crisis. Low-income students are more likely to experience family instability, with accompanying emotional, mental, and physical health barriers to learning. When a school district partners with its local Family Resource Center, they can tap into an array of resources and supports for students and their families, addressing the root of students’ struggles to facilitate lasting personal and academic growth. This chapter of “Student Supports: Getting the Most out of Your LCFF Investment” details how schools can partner with their local Family Resource Centers to support progress on the LCFF priorities.

Averting Crisis in Our Classrooms

By Alicia Rozum, California School-Based Health Alliance

Jared had been acting different. Typically an excellent student, he started falling asleep in class or putting his head down on the desk. He seemed “out of it”–that’s how his Chemistry teacher wrote it on the referral form to the high school’s comprehensive mental health program. As the school social worker managing this program, I decided the signs noticed by his teacher were enough to warrant scheduling an appointment that week.

However, within days, we received three more referrals for Jared — one from a friend who said Jared “seemed sad and lonely”; a second from his art teacher reporting that his work had lately been focused on death and destruction; and a final referral from Jared’s sister, who attended a different high school. His sister confided to her counselor that her brother had been talking about suicide. The counselor had the training to know that this was a serious risk and contacted me immediately.

Thanks to the willingness of all these referral sources — two high school teachers and two high school students–we were able to intervene immediately with Jared. We learned that he was, in fact, contemplating suicide and had a plan to kill himself that weekend.

We implemented our school’s crisis intervention protocols: Jared was assessed by a mental health professional, his family was contacted, and he was transported to the hospital for treatment. After his release from the hospital, Jared was paired with our on-site mental health therapist to receive ongoing counseling. Two years later, Jared graduated from high school and was on his way to college.

In many ways, the comprehensive mental health program on site at this high school helped save Jared’s life. The program had several components that made it successful:

  • All students had access, not just those in special education.
  • It was publicized to students through classroom trainings, activities, and posters around campus.
  • Teachers knew about it through professional development and consultation.
  • It offered crisis intervention, one-on-one counseling, and case management services on site.

Your school district can have services like this too! Student mental health is a big concern among educators, with over 20 percent of youth having a diagnosed mental health disorder. Many classroom behavioral issues, like acting out, poor self-regulation, and attention issues, are related to mental health concerns. With the advent of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the increased focus on student engagement and school climate, mental health services in schools are a cost-effective way to increase attendance and reduce suspensions/expulsions.

Mental health professionals on campus also help schools prevent and address crises, train teachers in effective classroom strategies and how to support struggling students, and involve youth in delivering services that best meet their needs. To learn more about best practices for building comprehensive school-based mental health programs, check out Why Student Mental Health Matters or contact Alicia Rozum: arozum@schoolhealthcenters.org, Project Director, Mental Health, at the California School-Based Health Alliance.

Why Student Mental Health Matters

Unmet mental health needs rank among the most pressing concerns for California educators, directly affecting student attendance, behavior, and readiness to learn. Schools have an important role to play in addressing mental health needs of school-aged youth. But schools can’t do it alone – by partnering with counties and community-based agencies and clinics, schools can create comprehensive mental health programs that serve all students.

School-based Mental Health Services: What California’s School District Leaders Should Know about Mental Health Funding and 2011 Realignment

Through the 2011 Realignment, California permanently shifted responsibility for administration and financing of most services for vulnerable children and youth to counties — including mental health services provided via EPSDT (Early and Periodic, Diagnosis, Screening and Treatment — Medi-Cal for enrollees under 21 years of age). EPSDT Realignment provides increased funding, as well as significantly greater decision-making power and flexibility for counties in their use of these funds. This paper (in draft) gives an overview of EPSDT and Realignment so that school district leaders have the basic information they need to reach out to county leadership to partner around building more comprehensive mental health service systems — systems in which schools play their critical role in increasing both access and effectiveness. The authors are looking for feedback.

Why School Nutrition Matters

At least 1.7 million households with children in California cannot consistently afford enough food. Schools are in a unique position to contribute to child nutrition through school meal programs, but there are millions of children who aren’t reached by these programs. Increasing access to healthy meals at school is critical to ensuring students can learn, grow, and achieve. So how can schools optimize their LCFF investments by improving school meal programs and increasing participation?

Co-authored by California Food Policy Advocates and the Partnership for Children & Youth, this second chapter of “Student Supports: Getting the Most out of Your LCFF Investment” dives into the most impactful practices for school nutrition and how they can help support progress on the LCFF priorities.