The Palo Alto Unified School District School Board will strengthen student mental health services, as part of the PAUSD Promise proposal for the 2022-2023 school year.
“We are looking at a plan that involves universal screening, early identification of student supports, clear processes and procedures to ensure that we identify students who need us the most, and making sure that we have the staff who are highly qualified to provide the services we need,” said Yolanda Conaway, school board assistant superintendent of equity and student affairs.
The school board approved this proposal on April 19 as a result of studies showing that students’ mental health suffered because of the pandemic. Although no formal improvements have been implemented, the board has outlined various initiatives.
“The need for a consistent, high-quality mental health care delivery system across our school district is a priority,” said Dawn Yoshinaga, school board appointed director of mental health. “The board recently approved funding for the Comprehensive School-Based Mental Health and Wellness Plan. Next year, we will add district-employed Mental Health and Wellness Associates in place of our current contracted mental health services at the elementary and middle school levels.”
Senior and president of the Bring Change to Mind Club Eva Salvatierra applauded the Wellness Center and associated mental health services.
“I believe they have devoted an incredible effort with respect to reaching out to the Paly student body with information, resources and related activities to encourage students to seek help for their mental wellbeing,” Salvatierra said in an email.
“The need for a consistent, high-quality mental health care delivery system across our school district is a priority.”
—Dawn Yoshinaga, school board appointed director of mental health
Palo Alto High School Wellness Outreach Worker Whitney Aquino offered similar praise for how the Paly administration has dealt with mental health in recent years.
“I think that it’s been great to see our administration step up to support and advocate for student mental health and support the Wellness Center,” Aquino said.
Aquino described what she would like to see in future mental health programs at the district and local level at Paly.
“I would like to see the continued support of both the [mental health] initiatives and the emphasis placed on relationship building,” Aquino said.
Conaway said she agrees that while this proposal is a step in the right direction, there is still much progress to be made.
“I would look at this plan [mental health proposal] as our first initiated best effort with the goal of improving as we go along and identifying where we need to close gaps,” Conaway said.
Salvatierra proposed other ways that student mental health can be addressed.
“I believe that the conversation regarding suicide in teenagers should be much more transparent,” Salvatierra said. “In order for these efforts to be effective, a much larger culture shift surrounding the stigma of mental illness at our school is necessary.”