According to Sacramento County health officials, COVID-19 created high stress levels for students, families and educators. As schools plan to reopen for the 2020-21 school year, meeting the safety, social and emotional wellness needs of all students will be a priority.

To help achieve an optimal physical and emotional health climate in schools, Sacramento County Public Health and the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) have partnered with the goal of placing mental health clinicians in every school in the county over the next several years. This partnership goal to make schools “centers of wellness” in their communities was announced in a county press release on June 24.

Galt Joint Union Elementary School District (GJUESD) has raised their own bar on identifying at risk students and will offer more mental health services. Superintendent Karen Schauer said protecting students’ mental health is a huge concern.

“We know that learning is social, emotional and academic,” Schauer said. “With school closure and the changing conditions that students, families and staff experienced, attention to well-being is important. Our school social workers and counselors are important to reopen schools with care, compassion and expertise.”

According to Donna Mayo-Whitlock, director of educational services, the district made mental health for students a top priority.

“Mental health and wellness for our children begins with addressing their social emotional health on a daily basis,” Mayo-Whitlock said. “Earlier in the year, our District Advisory Committees, Administrative Team and Board of Trustees unanimously agreed that social emotional learning couldn’t be an afterthought … social emotional learning is not one more thing on the plate, it is the plate.”

Mayo-Whitlock said that, in January, SCOE Mental Health experts coordinated with the district to provide multiple sessions of in-depth social emotional training to a core group of administrators and teachers representing each school. This foundational training will continue into the fall and be shared at sites.

Individual and small group counseling by district mental health staff (social workers and counselors) will continue, as will support for the individual needs of children and families through a site referral processes.

Mental Health teams will also continue implementation of Second Step, a Social Emotional (SEL) classroom curriculum, at all sites and grade levels PreK-8th grade.

In addition, the extended learning supervisor is coordinating and presenting SEL and wellness activities at all sites, as well as continuing Strengths and Wellness Zoom meetings with parents in English and Spanish.

A student wellness center is planned to open at McCaffrey Middle School, staffed with a school counselor and other support staff.

“(We have) monthly team meets to determine what additional supports and interventions can be put into place for students that teachers have identified as having academic, behavior or emotional needs,” Mayo-Whitlock said. “Referrals may also come directly to our social workers/counselors from classroom teachers or other staff. Parents often contact our mental health staff when they have concerns.”

The district also provides families referrals to Sacramento Children’s Home and Turning Point for additional family counseling and also parenting education resources, according to Mayo-Whitlock. There is a Mental Health Icon on the district website that links parents and community members to additional mental health resources.