Across the country, Mental Health Awareness Month is recognized in May. For students within the San Francisco Unified School District, mental health and wellness is a priority year-round. And, as we emerge from the pandemic isolation and students return to school buildings, we are working with The City and community partners to provide even more access to school-based mental health support.
Most students face personal challenges at school or at home at some point, and our school staff and community agencies who work with our schools are there to help. We have school nurses and social workers at every school, all of our high schools have Wellness Centers.
School social workers are dedicated to addressing barriers to student success in addition to enhancing the social and emotional growth and academic outcomes for all students. This is done through school-focused case management for individual students and families, small group counseling, individual one-on-one support, and trauma informed teacher consultations. School social workers partner with teachers to promote a positive classroom climate and connect students with resources.
School nurses are trained to recognize and respond to a wide range of health and behavioral concerns that may affect a child’s academic achievement and attendance, as well as concerns that can have school-wide impacts, like infectious disease.
This past year we’ve faced a health emergency like never before and our staff have stepped up to support SFUSD students during this challenging time. During this past year, schools implemented a district-wide family wellness check-in protocol for the staff concerned about student wellbeing. As a part of the protocol, SFUSD school staff called students and families multiple times for “Family Wellness Check-ins” to identify needs and discuss how schools could help families meet their basic needs.
We’ve worked to provide access to services and support student mental health while school buildings were closed due to COVID-19 by conducting activities using Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum, offering technology equipment and support, providing meal drop offs, developing a hub for students and families to easily access support services and linkages to resources, providing student support sessions individually or in groups via video conference, and offering a language phone line to connect with families with limited English proficiency.
During Mental Health Awareness Month, we are recommitting to creating school communities that fully serve students’ well-being, growth and development. As we plan for all students to fully return to in-person learning in the fall, we continue to explore ways our schools can serve students’ mental, physical and emotional health as well as their academic progress.
Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.