Hathaway-Sycamores, PUSD Partner to Help Students’ Mental Health

Photo courtesy Hathaway-Sycamores
Hathaway-Sycamores Assistant Vice President of School-Based Services Shefali D’Sa and School-Based Services Director Shannon San Pedro.

After a year of social distancing and remote learning, the mental health issues that children and teenagers are experiencing are soaring.
“Not only do students miss their friends and struggle with virtual learning, but many also have experienced deaths and job losses in their families, loss of housing (or fear of eviction) and food insecurity,” according to a Hathaway-Sycamores statement. “The stress, depression, and anxiety our youth are suffering is unprecedented and can lead to serious consequences. In fact, according to the CDC, attempted suicide and suicide are on the rise and are currently the second leading cause of death for teens.”
During this challenging time, Pasadena Unified School District’s partnership with Hathaway-Sycamores is crucial. Hathaway-Sycamores School-Based Services provides behavioral health services on four of PUSD’s school campuses, including Pasadena High School and three of the elementary schools.
From helping students who are experiencing anxiety and depression to those who have suffered a crisis in their lives – like the death of a parent – Hathaway-Sycamores’ clinical staff expertly provide individual, group and family therapy. They also perform behavioral rehabilitation and assessment services to help students manage stress in the effort to achieve greater academic success. During the pandemic, the connection that students experience with their therapist and the opportunity to talk to someone outside the family is critical.
The partnership with PUSD began in 1997 with the goal of providing greater access to behavioral health care to students in need. Hathaway-Sycamores President and CEO Debra Manners firmly believes in the equity the program provides.
“Having this program in the schools is so important because it makes the services easily accessible to students who might not otherwise get the support they need,” Manners said. “Often, we can provide early intervention before a more serious problem develops.”
At the core of this long-term relationship between Hathaway-Sycamores and the PUSD is trust. This trust has developed over time and is facilitated by the fact that in normal circumstances – pre-COVID – Hathaway-Sycamores’ clinicians and other staff work 40 hours a week on the campus. School administrators, teachers, and other school personnel know the agency’s team members in the school; they are familiar faces and have personal relationships with the school community.
“We go to Back-to-School Nights, PTA meetings and the holiday programs – we show up,” said Shannon San Pedro, director of School-Based Services. “That makes the community trust us more. When the school recommends treatment and the providers are on campus, it feels more collaborative and we have more ‘buy in’ from everyone involved.”
During this difficult time of remote learning, Hathaway-Sycamores’ clinicians and community wellness specialists are providing services via telehealth. However, COVID has increased the intensity and frequency of issues that the students are facing, and the Hathaway-Sycamores team has also been providing in-person support when critical. The team has supported students and families in other ways, too; this includes getting tablets and hotspots to needy students and finding the funds to pay the electric bill for a family whose power was turned off.
The agency is also expanding work with the greater PUSD community to meet new needs that have arisen during this past year. Last summer after a child from Madison Elementary School was tragically killed in a shooting, Hathaway-Sycamores staff went to the campus to provide support and help the healing process begin for the school’s staff and families. The school-based team met with Madison personnel to help them understand the various stages and feelings of collective grief that school staff members, students and families all might experience. The team also assisted school staff in determining the best way to discuss this heartbreaking event with other families.
While the district works with other providers, the relationship with Hathaway-Sycamores remains unique. Assistant Superintendent of School Support Services Dr. Eric Sahakian credits Hathaway-Sycamores’ flexibility as a key factor in the success of the relationship.
“We know if we put Hathaway-Sycamores in one of our schools, they are going to make it work,” Sahakian said. “They have the flexibility, creativity and expertise to adjust to the specific needs of the students on that school campus. This ultimately results in healthier students and families.”
The district’s belief in Hathaway-Sycamores’ ability to get the job done has recently led to a new collaboration involving two grants. The Proposition 47 Grant is aimed at intervening with juvenile offenders early to break the cycle and change the script from “school to prison” to “school to college.” The second grant is Project Prevent, a U.S. Department of Education-funded grant to provide school-based social and emotional supports for 12-18-year-old students who have experienced trauma regardless of income level and insurance.
The relationship has been beneficial both to both the district and the agency.
“Our longstanding partnership with PUSD has branched out in so many directions and has led to the development of an amazing program in our agency that has expanded to assist students not only in Pasadena, but all over Los Angeles County,” said Shefali D’Sa, Hathaway-Sycamores’ assistant vice president of School-Based Services. “We are thankful for PUSD’s partnership, trust and vision.”
Pasadena-based Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services is a “highly respected mental health and welfare agency with 10 locations throughout Southern California. For over 118 years, Hathaway-Sycamores has been investing in people,” an organization statement said. “We provide innovative and effective programs and services through a network of locations stretching across Los Angeles and the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Antelope valleys for children, youth, young adults and families facing serious life challenges. Our highly effective behavioral health services impact more than 16,000 lives annually.”
Services include residential treatment, transitional shelter care, foster care and adoption, transitional living assistance for young adults currently or at risk of experiencing homelessness, outpatient and school-based mental health services; wraparound/in-home services, psychiatric services, psychological testing, and educational support services. To learn more, visit hathaway-sycamores.org.