FOCUS: Student Mental Health
May 5, 2020
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As a practicing high school counselor for 20 years, I have personally witnessed how the role of our profession has shifted as the stigma associated with mental health has decreased. Students and families feel more comfortable reaching out for help and support, and school counselors are often their first point of contact. With the onset of COVID-19 and school counselors moving into a virtual setting, checking in with families and maintaining relationships with students is more important than ever.

The California Partnership for the Future of Learning conducted a needs assessment based on feedback from more than 20 grassroots education and racial justice organizations who heard from over 600 students and families from low-income communities of color in more than 20 school districts. The study found that schools and districts must prioritize a students’ sense of belonging, relationships, and connection, in addition to academics. According to the report, the need for mental health support emerged as the top concern, along with:

  • Anxiety and fear for themselves, family, and community because of far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 on income, physical, and mental health
  • Feelings of isolation, depression, and disengagement as a result of quarantine
  • Stress for youth living in toxic home environments with no respite
  • Harm to Asian Pacific Islander students and families from COVID-19-related racism and xenophobia
  • Insufficient access to social-emotional support and mental health resources for students and families under more stress during school closures and beyond

With a focus on mental health for the month of May, there are some helpful national and statewide resources shared below so you have the tools you need to bring attention and awareness to this important topic.
THIS WEEK'S FOCUS: Student Mental Health
By Mara Madrigal-Weiss, director, Student Support Services, San Diego County Office of Education

May is Mental Health Month and we need your help promoting youth engagement in mental health awareness activities. Before COVID-19, one in three high school students felt chronically sad and hopeless. Almost one in five had seriously considered suicide in the past year. Join us in promoting activities that will engage our youth in participating in efforts that highlight mental health, reduce stigma, and empower students by giving information and avenues to share their voice in meaningful and relevant ways. Don't know where to start? These resources make it easy!

Each Mind Matters Toolkit
The 2020 Mental Health Matters Month activation kit, " Each Mind Matters: Express Yourself," focuses on how expressing ourselves in different ways can raise awareness about mental health, break down barriers between people, build our own wellness, and strengthen our communities.The activation kit (in English and Spanish) includes:

  • Virtual Activity Guide: Provides suggestions for how to plan your May activities week-by-week that can be done while practicing social distancing:
  1. Express your support
  2. Express your well-being
  3. Express encouragement
  4. Express unity
  • Mental Health Materials and Activities: Posters, activity sheets, and templates
  • Social Media Guide: Pre-written posts, activities, and images for social media
  • Communication Resources: Email templates, drop-in articles, and a draft proclamation

California's First Student Mental Health Week
 California Assembly Concurrent Resolution 172 declares May 4 to 8 to be the inaugural “Student Mental Health Week” in California. On the California Association of School Counselor's mental health page of the covid19k12counseling.org website, there is a virtual toolkit with mental wellness strategies and positive coping techniques for school counselors to use. Promotional materials are also available to download and share.

WellnessTogether.org Partners with Schools
WellnessTogether.org is a nonprofit that partners with schools to increase access to mental health services for students and families across California. Clinicians work closely with school staff to provide additional evidence-based tier II and tier III interventions as part of the school's multi-tiered system of support. Last month, WellnessTogether.org provided webinars for school counselors and mental health specialists around topics related to mental health and COVID-19 with guest speakers such as California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris and Monica Nepomuceno, education programs consultant at the California Department of Education. Visit WellnessTogether.org for more information.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) — Youth Mental Health Well-Being Gathering

NAMI San Diego Children, Youth and Family Liaison (CYFL) will be hosting a virtual Youth Mental Health Well-Being Gathering as an alternative to the traditional annual event held during Children Mental Health Awareness Week. 
 
 
The event will include an art project, which has been expanded to all ages, including staff, and their families. Art is often used as a coping skill to promote well-being, and can be a wonderful outlet during the COVID-19 quarantine. 
 
Directions: 
  1. Submit a drawing, painting, poem, music video, etc. It can be done anonymously, but please indicate if submission is from a child, teen, or adult.
  2. Submit art to cyfliaison@namisd.org. Submissions will be collected throughout May for a final art slide show product. 
 
We hope that you, your colleagues, students and families can participate. For more information, please call or text the CYFL at 858-987-2980.
Lezya Weglarz
SCHOOL COUNSELOR SPOTLIGHT  
Lezya Weglarz
 
Lezya Weglarz wears many hats as a school counselor. She is a middle school counselor in San Marcos Unified School District, a lecturer in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at San Diego State University, the chair of the COVID-19 School Counseling Emergency Task Force, and a recently elected member of the board of directors of the California Association of School Counselors. Although this is only Lezya’s second year as a professional school counselor, her passion and enthusiasm are driven by four guiding principles: 

  1. Keep your “why” close by 
  2. Be a lifelong learner and leader
  3. Stay connected with passionate, motivated, and optimistic educators
  4. Be present, genuine, and authentic

Lezya’s “why” is the desire to empower students and families. As a child of Salvadoran immigrant parents, she trudged through the daunting road toward higher education as a first-generation college student. It wasn’t until she became the mother of a child diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum that she experienced the difficulties and subsequent rewards of establishing a solid educational foundation for a student with unique needs and abilities. She became her son’s most passionate advocate and supported other special education families in her role as a family liaison. In that role, she experienced the self-actualization of helping guide families through very challenging, yet pivotal moments of their child’s development. Through her work, she recognized the far-reaching power of collaboration and empowerment through knowledge and advocacy. Lezya is passionate about supporting school-family partnerships with Latinx families, as well as supporting students in special education. She has presented at the San Diego School Counseling Leadership Conference, San Diego School Counselor Con, the California Association of School Counselors (CASC) Annual Conference, and the American School Counselor Association ( ASCA) conference on these important topics. 
 
Lezya strives to be a lifelong learner and leader in her various roles. As the chair of the COVID-19 School Counseling Emergency Task Force, she brought together a group of 50 school counseling leaders from across California. Within a few weeks, they jointly created the recently launched covid19k12counseling.org to provide guidance and easy-to-access resources to support school counselors, administrators, caregivers, and other school-based mental health professionals in the transition to a virtual counseling platform. Through the process, Lezya learned the power of leveraging individuals’ unique strengths and expertise. As a counselor educator, Lezya strives to be an example to her graduate students of a passionate leader, but she realizes that she is constantly learning from them as much she has taught them. 
 
Lezya’s involvement with CASC, among other organizations aligns with her desire to stay connected with passionate, motivated, and optimistic educators. Lezya is grateful for the sage advice of her school counselor mentors turned colleagues and friends: Danielle Duarte, Trish Hatch, Diana Camilo, Loretta Whitson, and Cherryl Baker. Their passion, determination, and heart inspire her every day. She hopes to pay-it-forward to both her graduate students and middle school students.

Lezya’s last and most important guiding principle is to be present, genuine, and authentic. As a middle school counselor, Lezya loves supporting students as they transition from childhood to adolescence. Being present and authentic is critical in cultivating relationships with students, staff, and families. Although the middle school years are often challenging due to the rapid physical, intellectual, social, and emotional changes, she loves supporting students and families as they navigate this critical stage of development. The relationships she creates with her students are of utmost importance to Lezya. It is how she keeps her “why” close by! 
LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

Cultural Considerations in Mental Health, Focus: Asian/Pacific Islander and Latinx
San Diego Union of Pan Asian Communities (UPAC) will provide school counselors an overview of factors that shape the experiences and mental health needs of students of Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic/Latin descent. Participants will be equipped with strategies to better understand and engage with students and families to address their mental health needs. Information about UPAC can be found on their website .


CASC Workshops for California Student Mental Health Week
CASC and the American Civil Liberties Union are hosting California’s first Student Mental Health Week (SMHW) May 4 to 8. This week is an advocacy effort designed to create attention to mental health issues facing California's youth and draw a parallel between student mental health and the work school counselors do every day to support mental wellness in our students. Organizers encourage all to use this week as a platform to talk about mental health and use the hashtag #CA4studentwellness with events and activities.


Resources for school counselors, parents, students, and staff are now available on the CASC SMHW webpage.

Hatching Results Podcasts: COVID-19: A Rigid Commitment to Flexibility
In the April 29 Hatching Results podcast , host Trish Hatch follows up with Rachel Pekin, school counselor at the Hangzhou International School in Zhejiang, China. They discuss the re-entry practices and procedures for school openings, and the impact on students and faculty.

SDCOE Training: Engaging Students Involved in Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)
In partnership with North County Lifeline, learn how to work more effectively with students who have experienced or been involved in CSEC. Topics to be covered:
  • Intersection of Child Welfare Services (CWS) and CSEC
  • Mandated reporting
  • CSEC Protocol (CWS and CSEC Response Team)
  • Trauma and impact
  • Trauma bonding
  • Pimp control
  • Understanding victims
  • Engagement and practice strategies for working with students involved in CSEC
  • Safety planning
  • Resilience building
  • Resources

This training will be held June 2 from 9 a.m. to noon. It is intended for school administrators, school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, school nurses, and school-based service providers. Register to attend.
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If you have any questions or comments on the San Diego County School Counselor Network newsletter, please contact Tanya Bulette, counseling coordinator, at tanya.bulette@sdcoe.net .
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