Growing number of student wellness centers, through grant-funded partnership, support mental health on campus
Published Oct. 18, 2021
When Sarah Riddle’s son was threatened at school, she was reassured by staff that they had taken steps to ensure his safety — and that there were resources to help him navigate through his fear and trauma.
The experience he described upon coming home the next day was a relatively new one in Placer schools: He had visited the campus Wellness Center at Skyridge Elementary, and spoken with mental health staff on site about the situation.
“It made him feel much better, much safer. It calmed his nerves,” she said. “It’s such a priceless thing to have.”
Skyridge is one of 10 schools in Placer that now have Wellness Centers onsite — four elementary schools in the Auburn Union School District, and six elementary, middle and high schools across Roseville Joint Union High School District and Roseville City School District. They are the result of a grant-funded partnership between the Placer County Children’s System of Care and Placer County Office of Education.
CSOC first applied for and was awarded a competitive $7.5 million, four-year grant from the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission in 2018 to establish mental health triage services with schools, partnering with PCOE to begin operating in the Roseville districts. In 2020, an additional $4 million grant helped expand the efforts into Auburn. Each site is staffed by a mental health specialist who can provide school-based counseling and assessment as well as a family and youth community liaison who can help navigate and refer students to external programs as needed.
“We have a long working relationship with PCOE and this effort has been a shining example of how that partnership has really driven innovation to meet kids’ needs in our county,” said CSOC director Twylla Abrahamson. “The more we can do together to support children in their early years, the better their long-term outcomes will be.”
Students can walk in anytime to their Wellness Center — or be referred by a peer, teacher or even a parent — for a basic “wellness break” if needed, a reset of sorts where they can decompress and talk through a challenging day or experience before returning to class to learn.
Services start with those lighter-touch prevention options but also include more intensive supports for kids with deeper needs: group sessions, individual school-based counseling or referrals to outpatient counseling or other services, as needed.
Staff say they help students with issues ranging from depression to social anxiety that has deepened somewhat following the pandemic, as students re-learn how to interact in person with peers.
“With all of the issues that students are facing in today's world, especially coupled with a global pandemic, students are absolutely needing those social-emotional learning skills and competencies taught to them,” said Skyridge Principal Laurie Balsano Wright.
“We've tripled or quadrupled the number of students that we're serving, partly because it's known now,” said CSOC clinical supervisor Leslie Roth. “I think students are really encouraged by being able to get services and feel better and get back to class.”
The hope is that their experience will translate into a longer-term mental health toolset that students can draw on throughout their lives.
“Starting to talk about mental health and mental wellness at a young age is really important,” said Skyridge Family and Youth Community Liaison Brittney Larson. “Encouraging students to have a positive relationship with their mental health and to kind of de-stigmatize and normalize things, especially at a younger age, is going to lead to success in their overall emotional health as they get older.”