Student mental health and wellness took center stage at the Hollister School District Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 17.
A report from Kip Ward, director of student services, highlighted that while distance learning is considered the safest option for preventing the spread of COVID-19, it has underscored the importance of mental health for families who say their children are struggling with feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety.
To address this, Ward said the district used Proposition 47 funds earlier this year to hire a certified social worker, Adriana Gallegos, who is also credentialed in pupil and personnel services.
“We are fortunate to have Mrs. Gallegos, who has a referral process in place. At each site there is a point person who sends referrals,” Ward said. “She is currently working with 25 families throughout the district. She’s held parent trainings on challenges during the time of COVID-19 and actually recorded it in English and Spanish to broadcast them on the HSD YouTube channel. In addition, she makes home visits to students who are struggling with a number of different issues.”
Trustees and members of the public got a glimpse at the district’s wellness website, which Gallegos created. The site offers mental health and wellness resources for parents and students.
According to Ward, Gallegos spends a lot of her time focusing on chronically absent students, those who are missing more than 10% of school days. The Gabilan Chapter of Kinship Center, part of the Seneca Family of Agencies, is also currently in talks with HSD to provide a counselor and a part-time therapist for one K-5 school in the district.
Speaking to the fact that HSD has only one social worker for the entire district, Trustee Rob Bernosky referred to the decision to remove school resource officers and said, “I’ve always been critical of the school resource program because it was expensive and I didn’t see what benefit it was. I just thought there would be a bigger presence of social workers to meet the needs of what we just saw in the school site plans. So is there anything on the horizon to get more social workers involved in our district?”
Ward said, “The goal is to get one social worker for each campus.”
There are 11 schools in the district, not including the RISE virtual school, and one school—Rancho Santana—scheduled to open in 2021. Currently, only Ladd Lane Elementary School is open for in-person instruction for students with special needs. According to data from the California Department of Education, there were 6,154 students enrolled in HSD for the 2019-20 school year. With the exception of those attending Ladd Lane, students in the district are receiving their education at home or at a caregiver site through distance learning or virtual instruction.
Ward said there are various mental health supports available throughout the district during distance learning. He listed learning monitors (people whose job it is to make daily calls to check in on students); home visits made by site administrators and the parent/attendance liaison; two middle school counselors at Maze and Rancho San Justo; as well as mental health therapy sessions for students with Individual Education Programs.
Ward’s work on addressing student mental health has not gone unnoticed. At the start of the meeting, Superintendent Diego Ochoa presented him with the Administrator of the Month award.
“With all the social-emotional needs in the district, Mr. Ward is leading our plans to greatly improve social-emotional supports for students and staff,” Ochoa said. “He is also leading the charge in redesigning our school discipline policies districtwide, and he is just an indispensable to the Hollister School District.”
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