First published in the Oct. 22 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
The primary focus of the recent Community School Mental Health Forum hosted by Hathaway Center for Excellence, Sycamores’ highly esteemed research and training program, was to address the effect the pandemic had on students.
Led by keynote speakers Debra Duardo, Los Angeles County superintendent of schools, and Daniel Lee, state deputy superintendent of equity, thought leaders, school staff, caregivers, parents, school administrators, community activists and mental health professionals from across the country created a virtual “National Think Tank” and shared how professionals can help each other meet the challenges facing students and schools.
Commenting on the importance of this event, Hathaway Center for Excellence Vice President of Training Cameo Stanick said, “This topic is extremely timely as we determine how to recover from the collective trauma we have all experienced. It will require funding, creativity and commitment from leadership on down — an ‘all hands on deck’ approach — to toss systems and practices that are no longer working or relevant, and to implement new or scaled-up systems and practices that will meet the needs of each school.”
According to a statement from Sycamores, “The need to engage students who are returning from online learning and may have fallen behind academically and/or socially, and students who have disappeared from school rosters entirely in the past year, are of paramount importance.
“Schools are also facing staffing shortages, and many are attempting to determine how to address inequities in curriculum. Additionally, student anxiety is high, and months of remote learning have impacted social skills resulting in more behavioral problems on campus and added stress for teachers.”
Lee shared that the 2021 California state budget contains historic funding levels for education that will enable us to recover, accelerate learning, and build back better schools. He also reiterated the state’s commitment to create lasting, positive change for California’s students, with a focus on student mental health and wellness. Lee said that critical supports, like universal school meals and community schools, will be essential for supporting students who have suffered during the pandemic.
Duardo also shared her firm belief in the importance of including students in the discussion. “If you want to solve problems, talk to children,” she said.
As the panelists and attendees spoke, it was clear that challenges discussed are being experienced across the country. Many ideas were shared, both at a ground level and at a policy or systems-level, which schools, districts, teachers and families can take away and implement or advocate for within their systems.
“We know there are many obstacles to overcome, but this forum was an excellent opportunity for many different stakeholders, including Drs. Debra Duardo and Daniel Lee, to share their experiences, ideas and solutions that we already know are working,” Stanick said.