District faces shortage of counselors while prioritizing mental health

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After announcing plans to prioritize mental health in the 2021-22 PAUSD Promise, Palo Alto Unified School District Implements Improved Mental Health Resources and Procedures While Balancing Difficulties in Staffing Counselor and Therapist Positions Across All Sites.

The PAUSD pledge outlines the district’s goals for the coming year, including improving mental health, early literacy and equity. According to the document, strategies the district is currently using to improve mental health include developing a mental health screening tool for schools, exploring staff wellness programs, and monitoring load. student work. PAUSD mental health and wellness specialist Genavae Dixon said the district is implementing a variety of systems through a multi-level piloted approach at individual school sites..

Students log into the wellness center at Palo Alto High School to grab granola bars and oranges during brunch. The Palo Alto Unified School District School Board plans to prioritize mental health as part of the PAUSD 2021-22 pledge, and the district is developing and implementing new strategies to improve student mental health throughout. when facing a shortage of wellness staff. PAUSD mental health and wellness specialist Genavae Dixon said the lack of counselors and therapists is a result of COVID-19. “With the continuing fallout from the pandemic, the youth and adults in our community have an increased need for mental health support,” Dixon said in a message to The Paly Voice. “With this increased need and the same number of resources available, it has created a need for more qualified mental health providers in our counties, state and country.” Photo: Anushe Irani

“At both high schools, well-being surveys will be conducted in mid-October to get a feel for how students are currently presenting themselves after they return to school,” Dixon said in a message to The Paly Voice. “Students who request or need an individualized registration after the survey is administered will be seen by their technical advisor. [teacher advisors], SELF Mentors, school counselors or wellness center staff, as needed.

PAUSD board member Jesse Ladomirak said the district was struggling to find enough counselors and therapists to make support readily available at all school sites due to staff shortages at the school. nationwide due to COVID-19.

“We have done a very good job, I think, over the last few years in our district to break down those barriers, make the wellness centers more accessible, so there is no such stigma in walking. in there, ”Ladomirak said. . “But now what’s happening is students are coming in and they can’t get help. They are there, they do it, they have the courage to come in and they are put on a waiting list.

According to Ladomirak, PAUSD is working to address limited access to wellness services by exploring options such as group counseling sessions. With limited wellness staff members, Dixon said the district also maintains relationships with local community support agencies, many of which were featured at the recent school wellness fair.

“Mental health fairs were held at both high schools to increase our community partnerships,” Dixon said. “These shows also reduce the stigma surrounding mental health by raising awareness and connecting with organizations in our area that can provide direct support to students and families.”

However, even with progress in schools, Ladomirak said mental health needs to be addressed beyond district boundaries and within the wider community.

“We all live in a high performing community [and] which places a lot of emphasis on traditional and narrow definitions of success, ”Ladomirak said. “There is certainly work we can do at all the different levels of the district – at the district level, at the site level, at the classroom level – to counter this narrative, but much of this narrative comes from there. outside of our schools and actually ends up in our schools, despite what the district tries to do to keep it out.

In order to address this disconnection, Ladomirak said the district is taking measures such as organizing parenting sessions organized by the Parents and Students Association, which help parents understand how they can better support mental health of their students given the competitive culture of Palo Alto.

“People say mental health is so important, then when we talk about specific cases, the choices that are made don’t necessarily convey the value of mental health,” Ladomirak said. “Parents, I think, underestimate what seem like occasional comments that can really go quickly for kids, and [we are] somehow help parents figure out how to balance your own fears, wants and anxieties for your children.

Ladomirak said she hopes to work with the wider community to tackle mental health as the district continues to explore strategies within schools.

“I’m really interested in how we’re taking this conversation beyond our schools and really talking as a community about school boundaries so that we can resolve this issue,” Ladomirak said. “I think we can do a lot more if we really have a partnership with the community. “

Students are somewhat encouraged by PAUSD’s focus on mental health. Eva Salvatierra, president of the Paly Bring Change to Mind club, said that despite her enthusiasm for PAUSD to focus more on mental health in school, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

“From a high school student’s perspective – especially as a senior – there is a stark disparity between what the district intends to prioritize and what it feels like every day in Paly,” Salvatierra said in a post. at The Paly Voice. “I would love to feel like this PAUSD promise is progress, but on an anecdotal basis, I know myself and a lot of my peers have been hugely overwhelmed this semester. However, I still believe that our wellness center and school counselors have gone to great lengths to cultivate a safe place on campus and provide mental health resources for students. ”

According to Salvatierra, one of the ways to address the gap between the district and the student’s perspective on mental health is to give students a chance to confront the stigma and see that they are not alone. .

“I would like PAUSD to not only recognize the importance of mental health in our community, but also address the stigma surrounding the topic of mental illness, which maintains a large number of students and members. staff fighting in silence, ”Salvatierra said.


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