Elementary Counseling Program Expands Mental Health Support for Students
February 15, 2023 - Livermore, CA - A five-year, $5.7 million dollar, School Based Mental Health (SBMH) Grant from the U.S. Department of Education will benefit the students of the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) through the establishment of an elementary school counseling program that will increase elementary students’ access to tiered counseling services and supports.
The vast majority of the grant will be used to fund the expansion of LVJUSD’s mental health workforce. Over the course of five years, a full-time counselor will be phased into each of its nine elementary schools; a half-time counselor will be added at both Joe Michell and Junction TK-8 schools, both of which currently retain a full-time counselor to support middle school students; and two elementary school social workers will be hired to support needs district wide.
“This grant provides an opportunity to expand our mental health staff with highly-qualified, diverse candidates who are reflective of our community. Our District will play a role in collaborating with local universities to create an ongoing pipeline of qualified candidates, while also providing scholarship opportunities for current employees to respecialize and train to become school mental health staff,” expressed Amy Robbins, LVJUSD’s Executive Director of Human Resources.
In addition to the critical staffing additions, grant funds will also be used to implement a research-based social emotional development curriculum vetted by the California Department of Education (CDE). “Research shows that students who learn and practice skills such as self-awareness, self-management and relationship building perform better academically. Other areas related to school success such as behavior and school climate improve as well. When we have the resources to develop those skills for students from an early age and concurrently provide additional interventions for those that need it, we are creating a system of support designed to meet the needs of each and every student. It’s a game changer,” expressed LVJUSD’s Wellness Coordinator and SBMH Project Director, Dr. Liisa Hanninen-Danner.
Parent and guardian, teacher, and staff feedback gathered from recent LVJUSD Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) surveys identified additional counseling support at the elementary level as an important need. “When you see a common theme emerge from a diverse group of participants, it sends a strong message of what is needed. Feedback from our LCAP surveys was one of the driving factors in our District’s pursuit of this grant,” remarked Melissa Theide, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services.
Providing mental health support and education that meets the needs of its students has been a longstanding priority for LVJUSD [as exhibited through such actions as the creation of wellness centers; the development of a mental health website; training of staff, parents and students in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) and Teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA).] “The continued impacts of the pandemic along with other challenges that our students face today, has made the need for mental health support continue to grow, not decline. This grant affords us the opportunity to provide some of that growth and we are excited about that,” expressed Superintendent Chris Van Schaack.
Photos courtesy of LVJUSD:
Photo: Sunset Elementary students practicing emotional regulation breathing in Kid Connection, a program providing social-emotional and behavioral student support at LVJUSD elementary and TK-8 schools that will continue alongside the expansion of the elementary counseling program.