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A support system for student mental health

The need for mental health care is at a breaking point. A report from EAB found rates of anxiety, depression and suicide are on the rise among US teens, but despite these growing numbers, only 50% of children with treatable mental health disorders receive clinical care.

At Elk Grove Unified School District, we understand the gravity of this situation and the impact that mental health has on students’ personal and academic growth. We want to help students build healthy minds and bodies. To achieve this, we developed a multi-tiered system of support aimed at nurturing mental health, social-emotional development and future readiness.

Coordinating Care

School districts are often the first point of social, emotional and physical health care for students. The report also found students are 21 times more likely to seek care from an in-school resource than a community-based clinic. But, it can be difficult for school districts alone to coordinate this level of care.

We partnered with Care Solace, an organization that helps school districts and families access mental health services. Care Solace’s platform and Care Concierge experts match users with local therapists and programs that meet their specific needs, including addiction, anxiety, depression, trauma and more.

Our in-district support team -- made up of social workers, psychologists, mental health therapists and school counselors -- received training on the program and its processes. We did a two-week soft rollout then ran a districtwide campaign to let constituents know about the service.

The response was overwhelming. We made more than 400 referrals within the first two weeks of the rollout. This solidified what we already knew: There was an urgent need for quality mental health care in our school community. Our new service program was helping to meet that need.

It also freed up our team to focus its energy on our counseling and wellness programs. They include:

  • Assisting students and families in accessing services from outside agencies and community providers.

  • Conducting psycho-educational assessments of referred students for special education eligibility and services.

  • Providing short-term counseling services to students (by agreement of the psychologist, administrator and parent).

  • Providing consultative services to facilitate student learning and development.

  • Using therapeutic interventions to promote academic outcomes.

  • Adding Educationally Related Mental Health Services to Individualized Education Programs as needed. 

Positive Growth

Elk Grove’s culturally responsive Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports initiative is part of our MTSS. PBIS supports students’ behavioral and academic development, with a strong focus on the social-emotional wellbeing of our school community. We recognize the work of our staff and families as we strive towards creating a supportive environment throughout our district.

We use these indicators to gauge the progress of our PBIS initiative:

  • Increased student connection to school community

  • Increased instructional time

  • Up to 50% reduction in office referrals per school year

  • Reduction in overall exclusionary discipline

  • More consistent attendance

  • Higher academic achievement

  • Improved school climate and safety

  • Positive shift in school culture

  • Districtwide reduction in suspensions and expulsions

  • Proactively reducing problem behaviors

Building the Future

We strive to equip every student with skills and knowledge for success in college, career and life. When students graduate, they should be proficient at:

  • Creative problem-solving -- analyzing problems through critical thinking; developing solutions using innovative, inventive and intuitive ideas; and utilizing necessary resources and processes to solve problems.

  • Self-awareness, self-reliance and self-discipline -- possessing and applying necessary skills for living independently; setting and meeting realistic, measurable goals; and managing and balancing time, resources and responsibilities.

  • Technical literacy -- demonstrating mastery of technology; exhibiting willingness to learn and utilize new technology; and understanding the evolving role of technology in industry and society.

  • Communication and collaboration -- articulating thoughts and ideas orally, in writing and non-verbally; effectively reading, listening and observing; and able to collaborate with diverse groups to achieve a common purpose.

  • Community engagement -- demonstrating knowledge about local and global issues; respecting cultural differences; and participating in school and community organizations willingly and cooperatively.

  • Integrity -- making commitments and keeping them, always giving full effort; taking responsibility for actions; and acting with honesty, authenticity and sincerity.

Our district is successful because we’ve created a learning environment that is rigorous, relevant and relationship-focused. We’re focused on meeting the needs of every child by providing every resource we can in school.

The average American student spends roughly six hours per day in school. Let’s make the most of this time by not only focusing on their academic success, but by also prioritizing their mental, physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

Don Ross is director of student support & health services at Elk Grove Unified School District which provides services and resources designed to enhance students’ physical, mental, and emotional well being. EGUSD uses Care Solace.

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