It would certainly be a relief if all of our students needed time to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic. But that’s not the reality we see.
Students face significant and, in some ways, growing challenges this year, particularly with regard to behavioral and mental health issues. This was true before the recent mass shooting hoax and subsequent online threat involving one of our local high schools – and these incidents and their impacts on students‘ sense of safety only underscore what we have seen. . In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that a behavioral crisis is developing in our schools.
What does that mean? At a fundamental level, students communicate to us that they are in distress. This happens in several ways. Some communicate by telling us, some engage in self-harming behaviors such as substance use, and some act out or become aggressive. These last two categories are of particular concern and we see them becoming more and more common.
School staff go above and beyond to combat these behaviors while providing an excellent education every day. But they need more support – institutional, as well as from our parents and the community. Whenever a crisis arises in our schools, we share a collective responsibility to step in and help, if we are able to do so.
Recognizing this issue, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and school districts recently launched a partnership with United Way of Santa Cruz County, Public Health, Monarch Services, and Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance to create a coalition of partners able to provide our students and schools with the support they need. We call this a community resilience initiative, and it has three main components: awareness, capacity and belonging.
Raising awareness of the extent of these problems in our schools is an important step, of which this column is only a small part. We will be proactive with raising awareness in the coming months and are building a website with targeted resources and information as a way to provide support.
Capacity building for young people and adults is also essential. We are working to define and implement additional layers of training and support to give both groups more tools to identify and respond to warning signs of mental health issues, addictions, violence and abuse. ‘intimidation. One of our approaches is to offer an adolescent mental health first aid training program to all high schools in the county.
Additionally, we will continue to work to increase belonging and healing spaces for our youth. Our plan to open a wellness center on every high school campus, which I’ve talked about here before, is an important part of that work. We are working on ways to further expand these spaces with increased mentorship, leadership and events.
Behavior is not the only challenge our students face. We are only now beginning to understand the full magnitude of the learning loss resulting from the pandemic, losses that underscore existing inequalities. Recently released state data from the California Assessment of Student Achievement and Progress (CAASPP) makes this clear.
In Santa Cruz County, students meeting or exceeding state English standards have fallen to about 44%, down nearly 4% since 2019, the last year for which comprehensive assessments were conducted. . The number of students meeting math standards fell to 30% over the same period, a drop of about 5%. Both declines are in line with the statewide trend. Those interested in exploring local data can sort by district and demographic group on the COE data portal, dataportal.santacruzcoe.org.
These impacts are significant and call for action. At the same time, we must be careful about jumping to conclusions about their causes. For example, we are well aware that remote learning has not worked as well for all of our students, especially underserved students. This is a reasonable place to point as a contributor to learning loss for students for whom it was less effective. Yet compared to other states, California has among the least learning lost during the pandemic despite having one of the longest stretches of remote learning in the nation. This highlights the nuanced and far-reaching nature of the impacts of the pandemic.
As educators, we seek to teach the whole child and understand that these issues – behavior, mental health, motivation, fairness and achievement – are inextricably linked. Backed by decades of behavioral research, we know full well that when a student acts out, it reflects an unmet need. When many students take action, we can conclude that the need is considerable within our community.
So many signals tell us that we need to intervene, and it is our responsibility as educators, parents and community to listen and respond. We will soon share more information about the Community Resilience Initiative. The best way to stay informed is to subscribe to the WCC’s weekly newsletter at sccoe.link/newsletter.
The Superintendent’s Community Report is a Sunday column written by Santa Cruz County Schools Superintendent Faris Sabbah. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at santacruzcoe.org. He can also be reached on Facebook at facebook.com/SantaCruzCOE and on Twitter at twitter.com/SCSupt.