San Marcos High School
Paul Wellman (file)

Starting in August, at least one mental-health therapist will be embedded at every Santa Barbara Unified School District campus. The roughly $1 million effort will cover all students, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. To coordinate the rollout and programming for the nine elementary schools, the district is partnering with CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a nonprofit headed by CEO Alana Walczak. “A child’s ability to learn can be affected by witnessing domestic violence, for example,” she said, adding that sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and being negatively impacted by a caregiver’s substance abuse can also increase the risk of a child experiencing long-term mental-health issues later in life.

Walczak said the project will “help classrooms to become trauma-informed” by teaching teachers to recognize behavioral red flags and to make referrals for kids who need extra, outside help. “As stress levels drop, the learning environment improves,” Walczak said. CALM is about $250,000 shy of fully funding the effort, which includes $375,000 in district money and another roughly $250,000 raised privately, Walczak said. “If we don’t have it all by August 21, we’ll phase it in,” she added. “But we’re confident it’s going to happen.”

At the secondary level, the district is contributing about $500,000 and partnering with two nonprofits, the Family Service Agency (FSA) and the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (CADA). For students in the 7th through 12th grades, anxiety and depression rank high among mental-health issues, said FSA Executive Director Lisa Brabo, adding that CenCal Health is providing funding for students in the mild to moderate range, while the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Health will be more focused on moderate to severe cases.

Both efforts will be evaluated as the 2018-19 school year progresses and, once established, will be better situated to compete for grants and state educational funding to address longevity concerns brought up by Board of Education members during last month’s public hearing.


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