Student Wellness Initiative Excites at SMUSD

San Marino High School Principal Issaic Gates called his work developing the San Marino Unified School District Student Wellness Initiative “potentially the most impactful” he’s done in his career.
At the SMUSD Board of Education meeting on May 22, Gates and Liz Hollingsworth, a former Carver Elementary School principal and current special projects consultant for the district, plan to bolster their proposal for the initiative by advancing a dedicated staffing plan to make it happen.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” Gates told the board1 at its meeting last week. “The Titan Student Center has a budget, and the budget has a bunch of zeroes in it, but the lasting effect on the human lives, who won’t be students forever, has immeasurable value.”
The Titan Student Center will be the hub of the initiative, Gates explained, and will be on the SMHS campus, but this initiative will be district-wide, Hollingsworth said.
“This is a very progressive initiative for our district and it will help all of our students,” she said. “Every time I go out and talk to the community, I receive nothing but support.”
This project began as a proposed wellness center at SMHS to combat the rise of mental health issues among high school students because of mounting academic and social pressure. As they discussed in their presentation, Gates and Hollingsworth concluded that a more comprehensive plan is needed to best meet the needs of all students in the district.
The initiative will include instruction, programming and activities for students to learn how to cope with stress levels, balance out their day-to-day lives and learn more about mental health in general. The Titan Student Center will, in Gates’ words, be a place where SMHS students can be treated as adults when it comes to doing work and learning how to take care of themselves.
“But, if we stop there, then I think we’ve missed the mark,” Gates added, explaining that the initiative will continue to adapt and add to its functions. “I think students experience adverse mental health conditions because of how we put things together for them.”
Student surveys had shown that increased “busywork,” extra weekend homework, lack of friend time, low amounts of sleep at night, high parental expectations, a multitude of long-term projects or overlapping tests, excessive social media usage, peer pressure and the general college process tend to be the biggest issues for them nowadays.
“I don’t know how we can’t turn on the news today and not see how academic anxiety and depression oftentimes lead to tragedy,” Gates said. “Guidance counselors see it every day. I’ve had my conversations with students. I had one the other day where I said the word ‘stress’ and the tears came.”
“In one student’s words, it’s a draining, endless cycle,” Hollingsworth added.
The proposed budget for the initiative came in last week at $97,000 for the first year, mostly to address facility needs and furnishings. The Titan Student Center is penciled in for the second floor of the SMHS library.
The following years have $31,100 and $29,200 budgeted, mostly to fund the clerical support to be available 19 hours a week for the students; those numbers also include equipment and materials, professional development and programming for students and parents. The programming here will include those targeted to younger grade levels.
Notably, the San Marino Schools Foundation already has pledged $35,554 for the proposal.
Board member Lisa Link asked that Gates and Hollingsworth return next week to include budget numbers for having a full-time certificated professional for the initiative, which they mentioned looking into but excluded from the proposal to help make the budget more palatable.
“I know you guys were trying to be cost-conscious, but I’m just curious to see what this would look like with everything,” she said.
The rest of the board was supportive of the initiative, which is something it tasked district administrators with looking into a year ago. A committee was formed in September that included students, teachers, counselors, administration, board members, parents and parent organizations, and a school psychologist. Gates and Hollingsworth envision the future leadership team of the initiative to include educators as well as parents.
“Being a parent and having two children who probably needed it, I think it is really important to have parents on the committee,” board member Nam Jack said. “I would hope that you would have many parents who have gone through the process be a part of that committee. I am very, very, very pleased to hear that it is a wellness initiative for the district and not simply a wellness center for the high school, so that we may start early in kindergarten and move forward. As we move forward, the pressures become more pronounced as you enter the high school. If we don’t deal with it from the beginning, it’s just going to get worse.”

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