The Capistrano Unified School District is looking to spend approximately $1 million on a multi-tiered plan to handle student mental health and well-being.
The CUSD Cares plan district staff introduced intends to “positively impact” students by enhancing their sense of connection, school communities, and opportunities for celebration, a staff report said.
The CUSD Board of Trustees unanimously approved moving forward with the plan on Wednesday, May 17.
The various tiers for CUSD Cares include providing services for student well-being and instruction and support for all students, as well as more specific help for students who require more care and interventions.
Specific strategies for all students will include daily mindfulness moments in the classroom, weekly check-ins when it comes to well-being, kindness campaigns in elementary schools, and attendance campaigns emphasizing a “you belong here” message.
As for students who need more help, CUSD will provide wellness rooms in the secondary schools, sensory rooms in elementary schools, and counseling from the Wellness and Prevention Center at specific school sites.
Statistics cited by staff during a presentation at the Wednesday meeting showed 36% of seventh, ninth, and 11th graders in CUSD reported feeling chronic sadness and hopelessness. Of those grade levels, 19% of students seriously considered attempting suicide.
“There is significant and disturbing data at the national, state, and local levels, and in our own district, that students are struggling, that their well-being must be addressed,” said Gregory Merwin, associate superintendent of Education and Support Services.
CUSD Cares is not an entirely new concept and builds upon existing work within the district focusing on student wellness, Merwin said.
“In our county, a sizeable percentage of emergency room visits encompasses the age group of our secondary students,” said Refugio Gracian, executive director of Cultural Proficiency, Equity, Access and Social Emotional Learning. “Sixty percent of ER visits are for suicidal ideation and intentional self-harm makes up 40% of ER visits.”
CUSD Cares will also incorporate staff well-being with support services and other programs.
Some parts of the program will be implemented immediately, while other parts and the overall scope will be rolled out over the coming years. The steps outlined were based on surveys CUSD conducted with students, staff, Parent Teacher Student Association presidents, and district management in November 2022.
Trustee Judy Bullockus said she had been wanting the program for a long time.
“You, of course, have my vote,” Bullockus said. “This is something that can’t happen fast enough.”
Trustee Gila Jones expressed concern about students who express suicidal thoughts and don’t receive immediate assistance.
Trustee Amy Hanacek said parents need to be “allies, not opponents,” as CUSD Cares rolls out, and may realize their children were undergoing crises they previously didn’t know about.
“I support this wholeheartedly,” Hanacek said. “I’ve never been prouder or (more) anxious because once we get to this, there’s expectations. We are going to have to temper those expectations.”
CUSD Cares can be an “ongoing work in progress” where staff are welcome to tweak details and check in with trustees on how the implementation is going, Hanacek said.
“I do think this will be our culture,” Hanacek said.