class act Best practices in action

class act
Best practices in action
CSBA's Golden Bell Awards Winner logo
class act
Best practices in action
CSBA's Golden Bell Awards Winner logo
San Bernardino City USD is adapting student SEL supports for the virtual world
San Bernardino City Unified School District’s willingness to think outside of the box is one trait that has helped it aid students and staff throughout the pandemic.
Its Golden Bell Award-winning Student Wellness and Support Services Department (SWSS) hit the ground running in March 2020, adapting and improving its offerings for the digital landscape. Colleen Williams, director of SWSS, and her team haven’t slowed down since. Until all students have the support needed to achieve their potential, Williams said their work will never be done.

Serving the district’s 72 schools, SWSS’ mission is to provide resources to build the social-emotional and relational capacity of students so they can be successful in their academic careers and personal lives.

“We see SEL development as a proactive approach to mental health,” Williams said. “Schools are where the work matters the most. As a result, the SWSS department researches evidence-based initiatives, identifies best practices, develops a systems approach and integrates the work for ease of use by school site staff.”

The department utilizes a multi-tiered system of supports to enhance mental health, create positive cultures and foster community relationships. “Over the last few years, we have developed a wellness MTSS concept that incorporates trauma-responsive mindsets, restorative practices, positive behavior interventions and supports to facilitate the development of social-emotional learning competencies,” Williams continued. “We now are integrating our physical health supports to really define the wellness [portion] MTSS to address the social-emotional-behavioral-physical needs of all students.”

Closing in on a calendar year of distance learning, Williams recalled changes made at the onset of the public health crisis, including adapting professional development and mental health therapy services to virtual settings, supporting counselors to create their own Google classrooms for student access, and building out SEL supports like “grab and go” activities for site administrators to use, mental health trainings for staff and relationship-building across the digital divide.

“As much as COVID and the pandemic has challenged our system, I think it’s also given us the opportunity to look for ways to support our students differently,” Williams said. “With Gaggle, for example, it gives us a lens into the children’s world that we’ve never seen before.”

Gaggle is a surveillance tool that monitors the Google accounts of students for content related to alcohol, drugs and pornography as well as behaviors such as cyberbullying and potential self-harm and suicide. Notifications are sent to appropriate staff to handle.

When necessary, the district’s health professionals are equipped to conduct virtual suicide risk assessments and if potential self-harm suicide notifications come in afterhours, the district’s police department can do welfare checks.

“I firmly believe that this has saved multiple lives,” Williams said, adding that majority of alerts they receive are for potential self-harm.

Williams also highlighted an existing partnership with telemedicine provider Hazel Health, which has been expanded from a pilot program to cover the entire district. She told the story of a student who was treated for a medical issue by Hazel Health pre-pandemic. During the stay-at-home order, the child’s mother contacted the provider again because the student had lost a significant amount of weight and said their joints hurt.

The mother had been hesitant to take the child to the doctor because of COVID, but Hazel staff advised them to go. “With that advocation, the parent took the child to their primary care physician and it was discovered that the child had leukemia and went immediately into treatment,” Williams said. “Had it not been for the connection to Hazel Health, they could have gone much longer without treatment.”

As people have continued to realize the importance of physical and mental health, Williams says she’s seen an increased interest in SWSS’ work — something San Bernardino City USD’s Board of Education has always championed.

“As a board member championing mental wellness, now during these unprecedented times it is extremely necessary to continue to support our Student Wellness and Support Services teams throughout our district in response to the critical needs of our students,” Board President Gwendolyn Rodgers said. “Our Board of Education’s decision has been to address the stigma surrounding mental health — especially during the pandemic — by supporting trauma-informed practices, education and outreach for the overall wellness and academic success of our students and families.”

At the beginning of the district’s SEL journey, Williams said a huge lesson learned was that “we have to start with staff social and emotional health before we can ask them to support students’ SEL.”

With a 93.4 percent graduation rate in the district and their efforts proving to be more important than ever, Williams has not heard of another program as comprehensive as theirs. “I have not found a place that has all their health services, nurses, everybody living with their counselors, mental health therapists, etc.,” Williams said. “Really engaging in that work and the collaboration is such a rich process for us.”

Her diligent team of caring individuals is another factor that makes the department special, according to Williams, who said the program is sure to continue to evolve and prepare San Bernardino students for life after they leave the district.

“It’s no longer the facts and figures that you know, it’s how you engage with the remainder of the world and knowing your strengths and weaknesses,” Williams said. “We’re seeing that more from the business world, and the educational system is being asked to create people who can work together to come up with solutions to problems that didn’t exist before.

—Heather Kemp