Supervisor Angel Barajas made site visits to three Yolo County schools to check in on the K-12 School Partnership Program and learn more about some of the initiatives to improve mental health for school-aged children.
On Friday, Barajas visited Lee Middle School and Cesar Chavez Community School in Woodland, and Esparto High School in Esparto, taking tours of the schools and meeting with various staff members and administrators to receive updates on the partnership program.
“I think it’s important that we as elected officials support these types of programs but then also go on-site and see how these funds are being utilized and understand the positives of how the funding is helping the students directly and where it’s not,” Barajas explained.
The K-12 School Partnership Program is a countywide partnership that encompasses all Yolo County schools, aiming to expand mental health services to students in a safe and comfortable environment. The program works to prevent mental health challenges through early identification, address existing mental health challenges and increase the capacity to support wellness on school campuses.
The mental health services are guided by a three-tiered framework, allowing children to get the type of support they require based on their individual needs and circumstances.
The largest tier encompasses about 75-90% of all students and includes core instructions and basic interventions, working to build supportive, positive relationships between students and staff. Tier two takes a more targeted approach, helping students who may need a little extra assistance meeting academic or behavioral goals by using smaller group settings for support.
Tier three, which includes less than 10% of students, gives students individualized support, including assistance from outside agencies such as behavioral counselors or family therapists.
While mental health has always been a serious topic of conversation, Barajas noted the COVID-19 pandemic has presented even more challenges to students, educators and parents. The lockdowns magnified a host of whole new problems, causing unexpected changes to children’s lives as schools closed and children were forced to physically distance and isolate themselves from one another.
During the pandemic, several school site counselors were cut. While funding has allowed some mental health counselors to return to campuses, several schools are still without one.
“We are hearing issues that the students are having a lot of anxiety and are having trouble reincorporating themselves and having interpersonal relationships,” Barajas emphasized. “They are having difficulty juggling their social life, academic life, and at-home life, and the impact of COVID has really exacerbated those issues with mental health and it’s really impacting our future generation of residents here in Yolo County.”
Cesar Chavez Community School, located at 255 W. Beamer St., serves youth that are on formal or informal probation. According to Yolo County Superintendent of Schools Garth Lewis, students may find their way to Cesar Chavez through several ways like probation referrals, expulsion or truancy.
“Other schools’ tier threes are our tier ones here,” said Maria Arvizu-Espinoza, associate superintendent.
Through the K-12 partnership, Cesar Chavez School is able to provide a clinician for individual support therapy and provides intensive case management services, home visits and the facilitation of child and family team meetings which allow families to discuss challenges and how to meet needs to help youth stay stable and reach their goals. The school also provides other outlets for students like interns at the Yolo County Office of Education in the maintenance and operation program, allowing students to learn both hard and soft skills for when they enter the workforce.
Staff at the school are also trained to be able to recognize and assist students in need of mental health services.
“Our students are able to thrive in this environment as a result of these partnerships,” Lewis said. “I was really excited about the K-12 partnership because of understanding that in order for us to both respond to the needs of our students, but also to our families, we have to have experts who have another layer of understanding regarding how to respond to the trauma and how we engage with our families.”
According to Barajas, the ultimate goal of the program is to have mental health professionals at every school campus.
“Mental health has no borders,” Barajas said. “It’s impacting all of our students across every school site in Yolo County.”