07 Sep WCCUSD to Try to Increase Mental Health Support Despite Shortages
As shared at the Wednesday school board meeting, nearly half of WCCUSD 11th graders reported feeling chronic sadness in the last school year. (Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / Richmond Pulse)
By Samantha Kennedy
The news was bittersweet for the West Contra Costa School Board at its Wednesday meeting.
District test scores, including those among schools that typically underperform on state testing, are expected to rise, but an increase in chronic sadness among students has prompted efforts to increase mental health resources.
While receiving a presentation on the preliminary results of the Smarter Balance Assessment and the California Healthy Kids Surveys, staff presented data highlighting the need for mental health support.
According to the most recent data from the 2021-22 school year, nearly half of 11th grade respondents reported experiencing chronic sadness. One-third each of seventh and ninth graders reported the same.
LaShante Smith, director for positive school climate, said that the district has several preventative and responsive strategies to support mental health. Staff training, expanding clinical services and community schools integration, which focuses on “the whole child” by providing academic, social and behavioral services are some of the approaches WCCUSD is implementing.
But Smith said that many mental health services offered by the district, including those through partnerships with outside agencies, have to be fulfilled creatively because of a shortage of mental health professionals. In some cases, school sites that list themselves as already offering mental or behavioral health resources have yet to fill the position. The district is creating an inventory of where providers actually are to help students get support.
Clerk Jamela Smith-Folds asked if staff who regularly interact with students are trained on how to identify behavioral red flags.
Smith said nearly all employees receive some type of training in social and emotional well-being. Last year, according to Smith, yard supervisors even requested more training to meet the needs of students.
Board members asked if there could be some correlation among mental health, technology and attendance.
In a survey given to WCCUSD high school students, nearly 90% of respondents reported using their Chromebook for over 50% of the school day. Many studies have shown that excessive internet usage can harm mental health. WCCUSD has also had chronic absentee issues with students.
The district is now working to further categorize absences to see if students are doing so for their mental health. Attendance clerks will reach out to families to find out the reason for a student’s absence, which will go beyond what a doctor’s note can tell them.
But some think this requires trust that some community members may not have for authority figures, especially mandated reporters.
Trustee Mister Phillips said some communities don’t trust certain agencies, like Child Protective Services because of structural and institutional racism within them, and asking a family too many questions will likely not get them to open up. Phillips said parents may not answer truthfully if a child is given a day off, like a mental health day, if they feel the district will punish them in some way.
Smith said providing education for families about agencies and the education code, which allows a student to take time off for mental health, is something the district is doing to encourage openness.
The next WCCUSD school board meeting is Sept. 20.