The Palo Alto school board will have an opportunity to continue community discussions about teen well-being Tuesday night as part of a report on the spectrum of mental health and wellness services available at both of the district's high schools.
Tuesday's report, requested as an extension of board review of the Palo Alto and Gunn high schools' Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) reports, touches on the schools' counseling programs, suicide prevention strategies and programs, bullying prevention training for teachers and an update on youth well-being coalition Project Safety Net.
According to a staff report, work is "underway" to make improvements to both Paly and Gunn's counseling programs, including planning sessions centered on creating systems to more effectively provide services, collect data, and evaluate program effectiveness.
In the district's most recent Strategic Plan survey (2014), 68 percent of Gunn students reported satisfaction with the academic, college and career counseling compared to 72 percent at Paly (of 1,553 Gunn students who responded and 794 Paly). Sixty-nine percent of Gunn students and 68 percent of Paly students said they were satisfied with the non-academic counseling and guidance they received. Students from both schools reported higher percentages of satisfaction when it came to their own counselors: 75 percent at Gunn and 86 percent at Paly.
Seventy-six percent of Gunn students said they were satisfied with their social-emotional experience in 2014 and 78 percent of Paly students.
Paly's counseling program uses the Teacher Advisory (TA) model, under which dedicated staff members connect with students on a regular basis and serve as their primary contact person. Guidance counselors then work with the teacher advisors to identify students who need extra academic and/or social-emotional support and also support teachers and parents.
Gunn's program operates with nine counselors who provide direct services to students.
Both schools have credentialed Spanish-speaking counselors and the district recently hired a Spanish-speaking social worker to provide support services to various school communities. The district is looking at ways to further "improve access to culturally relevant services, including contracting for mental health and outreach services to better serve the Asian community," the staff report reads.
Brenda Carrillo, the district's student services coordinator, has met with nonprofit organization Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) and representatives from a Chinese parents group to begin a needs assessment and exploration of services for next year, staff said.
Parents and students will also receive an updated Strategic Plan survey this spring with additional questions, such as "Is there a caring adult at my school who I could go to with a problem?," according to the staff report.
Other health and well-being programs on Paly and Gunn's campuses mentioned in the staff report, include Living Skills, a course that covers mental and physical health, suicide, identity and other topics and is a graduation requirement for all students; partnerships with Stanford University youth well-being organization Challenge Success; Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS); peer leadership program Sources of Strength; Gunn's student-led support group Reach Out, Care, now (ROCK); and Camp Everytown, a four-day retreat that teaches empathy through talking about prejudice, stereotypes, mental health and other related issues.
Project Safety Net, a broad-reaching coalition formed in response to student suicides five years ago, has continued its work, but is at a leadership crossroads after losing its second director in two years last fall.
In October, city staff involved with the collaborative suggested that they not rehire a director, which is an hourly position with no benefits or job security, yet expects a high level of work and leadership that reaches across more than 40 organizations, from the schools to faith groups to nonprofits.
Project Safety Net is set to present an update to the city/school liaison committee, including on proposed changes for its structure, on April 2.
In other business Tuesday, the board will discuss program additions and resource allocations for the 2015-16 school year; a schematic design for the renovation of Paly's library and increased budget for the project; extension of two district Garland Elementary School and 525 San Antonio Road; and a $175,125 purchase of a new school bus for high school Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP) students.
The Tuesday, March 24, board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.