By Julie Drake Valley Press Staff Writer May 21, 2020
LANCASTER — Palmdale School District’s social emotional learning specialists help students with a variety of concerns, and who might struggle with distance learning and miss going to school each day because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The specialists, also known as SELS, are licensed through the state of California to be mental health practitioners. Palmdale School District has the clinicians, also known as SELS, on staff at a majority of middle schools and some elementary school campuses. The specialists provide instruction, case management, therapy and educationally required counseling services to students to promote mental health, positive social skills and personal growth.
May is national Mental Health Awareness month, so the social emotional learning specialists’ expertise is particularly helpful now.
The specialists identify the emotional and social needs of students, and encourage positive behavior through social/emotional skills training. They support families and district staff by providing consultation, completing threat and suicide risk assessments, connecting students to public/private psychological counseling services, providing information on community resources and delivering instruction and group counseling activities in the area of mental health.
Lyndsie Williams helps students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade at Tumbleweed Elementary School. “I’m the mental health person on campus,” Williams said.
Williams led four to five daily therapy and social emotional groups on campus per day prior to the campus closures. The groups, divided by grade level and subject, included anger management, grief and loss support, social skills, and self-esteem and confidence building.
“One of the big pushes with Palmdale School District is making sure our foster youth and our homeless population is well taken care, so I also have a foster youth support group and a homeless support group,” Williams said.
Parents and/or teachers can refer a student to group. Students typically remain with the group for one semester before they graduate out with a certificate. Last semester, Williams had 68 students in her groups. She graduated 43 students.
One of the criteria students must meet before they graduate from the group is a 30% reduced referral rate.
Williams now conducts her student groups via Zoom and Google Classroom. She posts a schedule of the different groups she leads every Monday morning. Students check for their group and then login at the appropriate time.
“It’s actually going pretty smoothly now that we’re in it and have figured out what we’re doing,” Williams said.
Williams said her students enjoy the group sessions. They also connect with parents via the Remind app for schools to alert them about their students’ appointments.
LaKischa Campbell, social emotional learning specialist who works at Cactus Magnet Academy, said her students have developed a new appreciation for school after weeks away.
“They definitely miss their friends. They definitely miss the routine of school and just seeing people on a regular basis and just socializing,” Campbell said.
She has several groups she works with.
“This is where their personalities are emerging and just development in general. For them to be limited right now they’re feeling that. But technology is right where it needs to be because it’s supporting them in at least having some sort of contact and communication with their peers,” she said.
Campbell said under the umbrella of mental health they are able to see if students have anything that impacts their ability to learn or socialize, and then beyond that behavior-wise.
“We address any type of concerns that parents or even teachers may have regarding their ability to fully function in a class behaviorally,” Campbell said.
In the last 10 years, Palmdale School District has averaged 1,100 foster youth with an almost 20% rise in the 2019-20 school year and is the second leading district in Southern California for foster youth enrollment.
SELS help foster students continue to feel supported by collaborating with their support team (caregivers, social workers, CASA worker, therapists) and making weekly contact with them.
“They are constantly looking for innovative ways to reach our students and utilize the multiple channels available to them on a daily basis. SELS work with all the district students and families to foster resilience during this difficult time, and they will continue to provide support and guidance because they believe we are stronger together,” the district said.
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