Nevada Joint Union High School District increasing support for students, staff
Building on the difficulties of unexpectedly transitioning to distance learning in the spring as the COVID-19 pandemic began, Nevada Joint Union High School District counseling staff are offering increased support as the 2020-21 school year begins with a return to distance learning.
“It really surfaced as grief,” North Point Academy counselor Karla Aaron said of the abrupt shift last spring. “Our students were grieving, and that would sometimes come out as anger or sadness, and that grief was about a final baseball season, or the drama performance, or not seeing friends — piled onto managing classes, family, and sometimes work.”
Aaron added that many students had strained schedules as essential workers, or were struggling with issues of food insecurity or limited access to internet.
“Every student had something,” she said.
In order to better address students’ varied needs, this year’s orientation for all students in the district included guides created by counseling staff on the topics of academics, college and career planning, and mental health. In addition to information on these topics, the guides included information on available resources for extra support in these areas.
“Every single student in the district will have had their eyes on this,” Ghidotti Early College High School counselor Dominie Wilhite said. “So, even if they don’t need it at the moment, they know it’s there and how to access it.”
Aaron said facilitating help for students would also serve as support for teachers.
“There was a huge frustration point during (spring) distance learning where teachers would get overwhelmed when they couldn’t help a student, so we’re making sure they know what all the resources are,” said Aaron.
Teachers will also be offered guidance regarding teen mental health first aid, which will help them spot early signs that a student is struggling so they can refer the student to receive counseling services.
“Before there are low grades, or they haven’t shown up for a week, there’s an opportunity for the teacher to alert us directly. That’s information we can use to intervene early on,” said Wilhite, adding that parents are also encouraged to make appointments with counselors if they have concerns about their student’s wellness.
Aaron explained that, as counselors, she and her colleagues also serve as a nexus between students and resources outside of the district. She said that, from learning more about a student’s needs, she may refer them to Nevada County Behavioral Health, Community Beyond Violence, or a number of specialized resources pertaining to homelessness or foster care issues.
Aaron said the need to give presentations and offer help virtually due to COVID-19 resulted in some improvements. For example, the district offers yearly workshops on college applications and financial aid, but these have always been held in person on a particular evening. Members of the school community who were working or were otherwise unable to make it at the specified time would miss out.
“Even when we do go back in person, we will forever have a better model now,” said Aaron. “We’ll be able to have a live (session), a recorded one, and help sessions for every piece of our practice.”
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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