Physical, mental care helps students thrive 

Remember in high school when you had a bad day? Had a stomachache? Or just needed to talk? Maybe there was a nurse who took your temperature and called someone at home to come pick you up. If you were lucky enough to go to a school with a nurse, that is.

Guess what our high school students in the San Francisco Unified School District get now? Way more.

Student support groups. Health education. Student-led schoolwide programs. One-on-one counseling and case management. Connections to outside medical care. In short, it’s a safe place to go talk to a caring adult when things aren’t going well, and — as one student put it — “a refuge at our school.”

We have 16 Wellness Centers, two Wellness Satellite sites and one comprehensive Teen Clinic on our high school campuses thanks to our partnership with the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Their Families and the Department of Public Health.

And they work.

Here’s an example: During the 2011-12 school year, Wellness Centers offered support groups to high school students who were experiencing trauma, grief or loss. At the start, more than 90 percent of them reported symptoms that put them above the clinical range for post-traumatic stress disorder. After taking part in the support groups, that number of students with PTSD was reduced to 44 percent.

Our high school students say it works, too. A recent survey showed that 82 percent felt better about themselves after having been to a Wellness Center. And 69 percent said they were doing better in school thanks to the support they got there.

One of our mental health counselors put it this way: “Adolescents are one of the most underserved populations when it comes to getting help because they often don’t know where to go or they encounter logistical barriers to services. We address this by coming to where students spend most of their day: at school.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

But back to the stomachache I was talking about earlier. What happens today in our schools?

We have a school nurse who tells this story:

“A student came to see me with a stomachache. During my assessment it came up that her family was completely disrupted by her father’s excessive drinking. She needed someone who knew her story who could help her. We read books together on what it’s like to be a child in an alcoholic home and we maintained a relationship throughout school so she didn’t feel so alone and confused.”

These centers are helping in the classroom, too. Our overall test scores continue to rise year after year, and I know that would not be happening without a comprehensive approach to teaching and learning. Our Wellness Programs are an essential part of our students’ staying well, staying in school and succeeding academically.

Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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