"In order for a student to do well academically, we have to make sure the social and emotional welfare of the students are being taken care of," said Kathy Sulaver, coordinator of special education for the Mouontain View Los Altos High School District.
If a student is depressed, anxious or overshadowed by problems at home, it is a safe bet that student's grades are going to suffer, she said.
According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, 51 percent of ninth-graders who felt sad or hopeless reported earning "B's and C's or below" on their report cards, while high school-aged students who had contemplated suicide reported earning "C's and D's or below" at a rate of nearly twice that of their non-suicidal peers (21 percent compared to 12 percent).
"When kids have emotional problems and mental health issues, they don't focus in school, they don't perform and they're at risk of dropping out," said Cecile Currier, vice president of corporate and community health services at El Camino. Currier, who worked with MVLA administrators on the grant, which she hopes will help keep kids in school and successful in their academic endeavors when it is rolled out in September.
This is not the beginning of mental health services at local high schools, Sullaver said. For many years, MVLA administrators, faculty and staff have been trained to support kids and recognize the signs of a depressed or distressed teen, and there are already programs in place throughout the district to address the mental health needs of students.
There is a club called SOS (Stressed Out Students), for teens aiming to "relieve stress and academic pressure." The Therapeutic Special Day Class gives students access to a therapist or behavior therapist. And, currently, four interns from the Community Health Awareness Council — CHAC — are working at the main high school campuses to provide mental health support for students, Sulaver said. However, the interns report to licensed CHAC therapists who do not regularly visit the school.
The grant will enable the high school district to hire two licensed therapists, who will work full time — one at each campus — providing individual counseling and group counseling for students, as well as education sessions for teachers and parents.
Every little bit helps, Sulaver said, and the $152,768 from the hospital district is "allowing (MVLA) to establish a much more comprehensive program. ... We're so thankful to the board of directors at El Camino Hospital for approving this grant."
Currier said that in addition to giving troubled students additional support, the therapists will be able to help teachers, who sometimes are unsure exactly what they ought to do for those teens in their class who are obviously having a hard time.
"The teachers will have someone to talk to if they're worried about one of their students," she said. And the therapists will be able to advise those teachers on warning signs, how to deal with different kinds of emotional issues and let them know when it is appropriate to refer a depressed teen for more extensive counseling, she said.
Teachers are not the only ones who may be unsure how to deal with an upset adolescent, Currier continued. That's why the therapists will be made available for the students' parents, as well.
"Some families are under huge financial strain as the result of this recession," she said. Divorce is another possible source of stress. Through this multi-pronged approach of reaching out to parents, as well as to teachers and students, Currier said she hopes MVLA's mental health program will become a community effort — reinforcing the maxim that it takes a village to raise a child.
Keeping kids in the right mind set is about more than just good grades, Currier said, noting that teens with unresolved mental health issues are more likely to grow into unstable adults with a higher likelihood of engaging in drug use, ending up behind bars and being a drag on the community.
"The school is such a critical institution to provide all kinds of support to students," Currier said. "As a community hospital we believe it is critical that we partner with the important institutions in the community, and schools are certainly important institutions where you can help lots of people."