For the past four years FJUHSD has increasingly focused on social and emotional health and greater overall mental health care by expanding mental health resources, particularly for extreme mental health emergencies through psychologists and suicide prevention resources. Teachers and administrators experienced professional development training about student emotional and mental well-being and the board approved allocating additional resources for social workers and counseling staff providing increased mental health support for students.
Many mental health issues that students are experiencing didn’t just spring up due to pandemic anxiety and distant learning environments. But distance learning put additional stress on students experiencing anxiety and exposed many parents to the day-to-day issues and stressors that used to be confined to the school setting. The pandemic placed some students, adding to existing stress levels for others and allowing some students relief from previous tensions created by just going to school. Distance learning showed that no one goes through such upheaval without some trauma and mental health self-care becomes a necessity for all students, not just the few who require intensive intervention in the form of psychological care or the other resources provided by a number of outside providers.
If you go to the FJUHSD website, along the top of the home page there is a mental health tab. This is a hidden gem on the website. It provides parents and students with mental health needs step-by-step instructions to start to get support from the student’s home school site.
There is a welcoming 9-minute video hosted by Carlos Alcantara, the FJUHSD Mental Health Coordinator, introducing parents and students to various providers the district has partnered with, and reminding everyone that help begins by talking to your student’s school site administrator or academic counselor.
The second area under this site is the Virtual Calming Room. It is a resource for everyone, instantly providing different ways to let go of growing stress and get refocused, which is sometimes all a person needs to defuse an escalating situation. The Virtual Calming Room offers a variety of ways to get away for a few minutes and support your emotional wellbeing. There are a range of YouTube links and videos with timed mediations, yoga and other exercise workouts, journaling prompts, live animal cams, calming sounds and drawing apps. It provides numerous ways for a person feeling overwhelmed to take a 10-minute break and relieve the growing tension of everyday life by changing their perspective.
The initial mental health support video was in Spanish and English. The Virtual Calming Room is listed as being available in Spanish and Korean in addition to English, but I was unable to access the Virtual Calming Room through Chrome or Firefox in any language other than English and some of the video links need some updating. Hopefully by the time school begins again in August, the links will be updated and the language access improved and expanded to include additional options.
Acknowledging that students need social and emotional mental health support is the first step in getting students and school staff building a stronger mental health environment. Internal student and parent surveys indicate that the district still needs to build communication about these available services to students and families and the district needs to listen to student feedback to preserve the options that really help them and let go of the options that miss the goal of alleviating stress. Educating students to feel comfortable recognizing and coping with anxiety and trauma is a necessary skill for post-pandemic recovery for everyone, and may prove to be one of the most valuable habits to take away from the experience.