Even before COVID-19 hit, students at Hamilton K-8 School in Fresno faced serious challenges. Nine out of 10 came from low-income families, and some were dealing with the trauma of homelessness, deportations, family substance abuse, and violence on the streets and in their homes.
When the pandemic forced school districts to stop in-person learning and move to the online world, the situation got worse.
“School was their safe place, and that was gone,” said Pearl Heppner, executive director of Family Foundations Counseling Services, which provides counseling to students and staff at Hamilton with grant support from Kaiser Permanente. “Many students felt isolated. There was huge anxiety, depression, and feelings of loss, and parents could not always understand what was going on with their children.”
When the Hamilton campus closed, Family Foundations quickly pivoted to holding counseling sessions with students online. Before the pandemic, it provided in-person individual and group counseling, plus classroom interventions.
Family Foundations Counseling Services is 1 of 15 organizations across Northern California that received a total of $1.5 million in Resilience Initiative grants from Kaiser Permanente to provide mental health counseling for middle and high school students.
“We provide a safe place for students to look at and process their feelings, and we help them build skills to bring down their anxiety. When needed, we connect them to community resources,” said Heppner.
“We’re making a difference for them, and it’s amazing to be a part of that.”
– Pearl Heppner, Executive Director of Family Foundations Counseling Services
Counselors also take advantage of Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools Resilience in School Environments program to support teacher, staff, and student wellness.
In addition to grants supporting school resilience, in 2020, Kaiser Permanente also supported mental health and wellness in schools through these initiatives:
Grant funding for 3 community-based organizations brings mindfulness training to 10 school districts and 5 additional schools. Substantial evidence shows mindfulness training helps students combat the negative impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), decrease stress and anxiety, increase ability to focus attention, emotionally regulate, and improve interpersonal relationships.
Resilience in School
Resilience in School Environments (RISE) is part of Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools. RISE deploys virtual and in-person resources to empower schools to cultivate practices that strengthen the social and emotional health of school employees and students.
Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre offers free online programming for schools and communities to help address some of the many challenges students face during the pandemic. Ghosted addresses student stress, anxiety, depression, and healthy coping strategies. RISE UP is a learning session for teachers and school staff to foster resilience using a trauma-sensitive approach to interactions with students. Nightmare on Puberty St. promotes healthy ways for students to cope with stress, depression, and thoughts of suicide, as well as tools for dealing with racism, discrimination, and microaggressions.