Tuolumne County’s first student health center focuses on teens and mental health | News
A grant the Sonora Union High School District received in December will help fund mental health services at Tuolumne County’s first student health center, which opened in August.
The center was developed after the district board and local stakeholders decided at a meeting in April that the students’ mental health would be the district’s top priority moving forward.
District staff and stakeholders were working with data from the California Healthy Kids Survey for the 2020-21 school year, a confidential, anonymous statewide survey of school climate and safety, student wellness, and youth resilience.
By comparing state data with survey responses from nearly 500 Sonora students — all district 9th graders and all 11th graders combined — they found that students’ mental health responses here were significantly worse than the statewide averages.
Examples include 61% of Sonora Union High School District’s 9th graders and 63% of the district’s 11th graders admit chronic sadness/despair, compared to state averages of 33% and 37%, respectively.
Furthermore, 26% of Sonora County’s ninth graders and 33% of the district’s eleventh graders considered suicide, compared to state averages of 16% and 17%.
In addition, 35% of Sonora County’s ninth graders and 50% of the district’s eleventh graders report current alcohol or drug use, compared to state averages of 15% and 23%.
“We’re twice the state average in some categories,” Stacy Crowes, a counselor who works at Sonora Tertiary Health Center, said Wednesday. “Chronic grief, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, we’re twice the average case in almost all of those.”
It was more than just data, Crowes said.
Following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the District Counseling Team noted that many students are having difficulty returning to and feeling comfortable in campus and classroom environments, and have noted increased levels of anxiety among students.
Drug use among students also increased during the pandemic because many students were more isolated at home, and more opportunities for drug use were presenting themselves without the normal structure, peer interactions, and guidance available in their school communities.
Heather Albertson, a therapist at the school’s Sonora County site, helped open the Sonora High Wellness Center in August.
Ed Pelfrey, the district administrator, said Wednesday that the district spent $42,000 to renovate existing office space as the new Wellness Center, and the funding came from developer fees earmarked for capital improvements to increase student services.
Albertson then went to work in September writing a grant application to help fund future services for Sonora area students through the Wellness Center.
It was her first time submitting a grant application, Albertson said, and she counted on help from the county’s then superintendent of schools, Cathy Parker. She and her team visited a student health center in Roseville.
Albertson submitted her grant application to the state in October and she and members of her district team received news in December that her grant application had been successful. The grant will enable the Sonora Union High School District to foot the Medi-Cal bill for mental health services the district already provides to district students.
A key component of a successful grant application is for the district to receive $200,000 over two years for the district to engage with the technical assistance team for guidance for generating Medi-Cal bills.
“With the Medi-Cal refunds we will receive, this will allow us to provide more mental health services to our students,” Albertson said.
Pelfrey said Wednesday that he could not estimate how much the district spends annually on student mental health services. This is what grant funding will do: determine how much the district can bill Medi-Cal for.
“We provided the services with four consultants and a doctor,” Pelfrey said. “They do more than just provide services that can be billable to Medi-Cal. What we’ll do is look at all the services our counseling team has provided and try to determine what costs Medi-Cal can reimburse the area for. When we find out what’s billable As we receive compensation, we hope to be able to provide additional mental health services to our students.”
Serenity Waldie is the front line employee attending student needs and appointments at Sonora High Wellness Center, which remains the premier and only student wellness center in Tuolumne County. The advisors are Cruz, Courtney Castle, and Elizabeth Jarrett. Albertson remains the school’s site handler for Sonora County.
Monthly topics to date for the Sonora High Wellness Center have included kindness, drug and alcohol prevention, suicide awareness and prevention, and bullying. The Anxiety Toolkit for Teens, Social Anxiety Relief for Teens, The Self-Esteem Book for Teens, and The Anxiety Book for Teens are among the titles on the wellness center’s bookshelf.
“Our goal is to teach students skills they can use,” Kruiz said. “Skills they can use to work on their mental health in their own time.”