SFUSD Expands Access to Health and Wellness Supports for Students
San Francisco (August 9, 2021) - As part of its preparations for a full return to in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is committed to supporting students’ mental health and wellness and, with the help of a private donation, will be able to offer more health and wellness services for middle school students, starting with three schools in SFUSD.
“This fall we are asking all of our school staff to focus on fostering a sense of belonging, cultivating a positive school climate, and we are encouraging all the adults who work with our students to practice strategies that foster inclusion and achievement,” said Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews.
SFUSD has created at least three weeks of lesson plans and resources to support launching the year with a set of shared common principles across content areas and grade levels. The resources were developed around a set of principles that aim to provide coherence across classes so students can feel safe, welcomed, valued, and celebrated as they return to in-person learning: relationship building with others and with oneself; assessing learning; collaborating among peers and with families; infusion of writing; and technology integration.
When the school year begins, SFUSD school staff will also be making “welcome back” calls to all families to check in and let families tell their own stories. These calls will build upon the district’s “Family Wellness Check-Ins” initiative that launched at the start of the pandemic in spring 2020, when schools across the district called their families in SFUSD’s first ever system-wide approach to family outreach to provide an individual, school site, and system wide snapshot of how students and families were doing.
“We understand how important face to face interaction is for students' well-being, and we are excited about bringing students back to in-person learning, which is crucial for their emotional and mental development,” SF Board of Education President Gabriela López said. “Children learn, love, and thrive best when surrounded by thoughtful adults and other children in a safe environment. Our schools are filled with caring individuals like teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers and school district nurses. We are all ready to welcome back our students and families, and will be especially attentive of students who need additional support.”
San Francisco public schools have long been a leader in implementing systems to support the emotional and physical well-being of students. With 120 School Social Workers, SFUSD’s social worker to student ratio is one of the lowest among California public school districts, thanks in large part to funding from the voter-approved San Francisco Public Education Enrichment Fund. SFUSD employs 15% of California public school Social Workers, but makes up less than 1% of California public school students. SFUSD currently has 70 school district nurses who serve schools either full-time or part-time. In addition, school staff may call to consult with a school nurse at any time.
SFUSD has Coordinated Care Teams (CCTs) at every school site, who work together to organize student and family support activities and share information among all of the participants concerned with a student’s success.
San Francisco’s Wellness Initiative is in place at 19 high school campuses. Wellness Centers provide safe, confidential settings where students can access health experts and gain the skills they need to cope with complex issues such as stress, trauma, suicide, bullying, depression, self-esteem, drug and alcohol use, sexual health and relationships.
Launch of Middle Grades Wellness Services
Over the next four years SFUSD, in partnership with the City’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and several community organizations, will build upon existing school-based service models to enhance and expand more full-service community schools.
The launch of wellness services at the middle grades over the next four years will be made possible as a result of a private donation of over $15 million. Starting with three schools in 2021 -- Visitacion Valley Middle School, Francisco Middle School and Everett Middle School -- and gradually expanding, the DCYF-SFUSD Middle School Health and Wellness Initiative will provide culturally relevant mental health and wellness services in 13 middle schools and three K-8 schools with existing Beacon Centers operated in collaboration with community-based organizations.
The new funding will provide support for the creation of a credentialed health education teacher position, allowing for baseline instruction addressing the critical health and wellness and healthy relationship issues confronting middle school students. Additionally, it will fund a full time nursing position and a community health outreach worker position to assist with creating a wellness space at schools, building family partnerships, developing a youth outreach worker program, assisting with attendance support strategies, leading youth development groups as well as facilitating community based organizations in collaboration with the Beacon Centers to bring additional services to students and their families.
As the district expands mental health and wellness services in middle schools, it hopes to see increased rates of students reporting feeling safe, a greater sense of belonging, improved attendance rates, and a decrease in rates of students reporting thoughts of suicidality.
A National Model for Student Support
SFUSD sustained access to some services and supports for student mental health while school buildings were closed due to COVID-19. SFUSD school social workers and nurses were among the first in the state to implement a distance learning service delivery system, and the Centers for Disease Control has featured SFUSD’s leading role in school-based wellness efforts, including its recent pandemic response.
During distance learning, services included students accessing virtual “drop ins” with social workers, individual and group counseling sessions were arranged for students and families, and school site-based coordinated care approaches where school teams have worked together to make calls from their schools.
District staff conducted Social Emotional Learning (SEL) activities in remote learning and developing a hub for students to easily access support services and linkages to resources, providing student support sessions individually or in groups via video conference, and offering a multilingual phone line to connect with families with limited English proficiency. SFUSD also implemented a district-wide family wellness check-in protocol to check in with families regarding student wellbeing and to offer support when needed.
SFUSD is the seventh largest school district in California, educating over 54,000 preK-12 students every year. San Francisco is both a city and a county; therefore, SFUSD administers both the school district and the San Francisco County Office of Education (COE). This makes SFUSD a “single district county.”