PUSD’s Wellness Center worked to keep up with demand for services during a challenging year

The demand for mental health counseling for Piedmont middle schoolers and high schoolers jumped during COVID: PUSD’s Wellness Center saw an almost 78% increase in new referrals from the 2019-2020 school year to the 2020-2021 school year.

In order to meet the demand for services, the Wellness Center worked to became more accessible by changing the way it typically delivered services by adding teletherapy, drop-in hours, support groups to address students’ desire for connection, and a direct referral program to make sure students who wanted to be seen would be seen.

In an interview with the Exedra, the Center’s co-clinical supervisors Dr. Alisa Crovetti and Amy Hazer, LCSW, both emphasized that their main concern during the pandemic was making the Wellness Center’s services as accessible as possible when they had to transition all their services and sessions online. “Most of us who were providing counseling in the Wellness Center had never done teletherapy before. It was a really important new way of working and we needed to figure out everything from how to fulfill legal requirements to what platform we were using,” said Hazer.

It has turned into a tool they plan to continue to use in the fall. “There may be times when we are back on site in the future where we might need to use it. We anticipate having distanced learning with the wildfires in the fall and there might be other things that keep kids at home, but they still need their therapy sessions,” said Crovetti.

Additionally, the Wellness Center staff implemented a variety of new programs. They created drop-in hours during lunch, Monday through Friday, and assigned a therapist to each day of the week, so there was a someone available to see students every day instead of having to wait on a referral list. “Before drop-in hours it was hit or miss with students dropping in. If a student was in crisis it was possible for them to see someone, but short of that students would have to come back,” said Crovetti. They plan to continue using the drop-in model in the Fall. 

The Wellness Center interns also conducted open-ended surveys of high school students to identify common stressors and then worked to create support groups based on the responses. “The feedback was that students weren’t craving a specific kind of focus group, but preferred general peer support and social opportunities that happened organically during a regular school day,” said Hazer. The surveys resulted in the creation of an eighth grade girls drawing club and two open-ended support groups for high school students. 

“Big changes were made to make ourselves more available. We emphasized to parents that parents could refer their kids and kids could refer themselves. Before, referrals were coming from school staff, but since kids were now at home we created a direct referral program,” said Crovetti.

Referrals increased from 72 new referrals in the 2019-2020 school year to 128 new referrals in the 2020-2021 school year. Those numbers don’t account for drop-ins or students who continued to be seen from previous years. The district also sent out a mental health screener to 3rd-12th graders, and Wellness Center counselors reached out to all students who scored in an elevated range. 

Their other strategy in tackling the mental health impact of COVID started in the spring of 2020, when Hazer and Crovetti wrote weekly articles on the adjustment process of quarantining and normalizing all the big uncomfortable feelings created by living through a pandemic. “We created a comprehensive resource page related to getting through COVID addressing mental health, academics, parents, students, and staff,” said Hazer. (See the resources HERE.)

The need to prioritize the mental health of PUSD students has been cited numerous times by school board members, district administrators, teachers, and parents in public and private forums since the shutdown last spring. At the May 28 school board meeting, in a plea for “multi-tiered systems of support” for students, Principal Adam Littlefield said that “ongoing communications from parents about social-emotional health are heartbreaking. If we don’t proactively address this, the results will be devastating.”

The PUSD Wellness Center provides confidential, free counseling services to all Piedmont High School, Millennium High School, and Piedmont Middle School students, including IEP-based counseling services. The Wellness Center helps students manage common emotional and social challenges of middle and high school including stress, depression, grief, family or friendship conflicts, and substance use concerns. You can find contact information and more HERE.

The Wellness Center Support Committee raises money to support the work of the Center. You can learn more about how to help HERE. The Wellness Center Support Committee used Instagram (piedmontwellness) to reach students and parents throughout the last school year.

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