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S.D. Unified offers resources for physical and social-emotional wellness as schools move toward reopening

Members of the La Jolla Cluster Association hear about resources for student, family and staff wellness.
Members of the La Jolla Cluster Association hear about resources for student, family and staff wellness at the group’s March 18 meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

As the San Diego Unified School District prepares to welcome students back to campuses for its April 12 reopening from more than a year of pandemic closure, it’s offering families and staff members several resources intended to support their physical, emotional and social health.

Kate McDevitt, wellness program supervisor in SDUSD’s department of nursing and wellness, presented many of the resources at the March 18 Zoom meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association, which represents the district’s five schools in La Jolla.

The resources she shared were broken into three areas — families, students and staff — and represented “the tip of the iceberg” of what the district offers, she said.

“We’re on track” to reopen April 12, San Diego Unified School District Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino told the La Jolla Cluster Association during its March 18 meeting, referring to the district’s plan to have students return to campuses for up to four days a week of in-person instruction in a hybrid model with online learning.

For all three areas, McDevitt pointed to the California Schools Voluntary Employee Benefits Association Resource Center (vebaresourcecenter.com), which is provided free.

Most VEBA benefits are for SDUSD employees, but “they have created a virtual resource center with virtual classes taking place every single day,” she said. Topics of the nearly 300 classes offered per month range from fitness, yoga and dance to cooking and mindfulness and are aimed at all families.

McDevitt said SDUSD has partnered with Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which has “tremendous resources for parents and caregivers,” such as advice for finding personal space while learning from home and resources to support sleep, which she said is “key to learning.”

Traditional wellness resources can be found on the Live Well San Diego website (livewellsd.org), which McDevitt said “has a lot of good offerings for healthy eating and active living,” along with a 30-day challenge.

For parents, McDevitt said there is the California Parent & Youth Helpline at (855) 427-2736 for those who “need someone to talk to to process through the things that you’re struggling with.”

There are students who are struggling with mental health as well, she said. “This is a valid and real thing.” To address that, the SDUSD mental health resource center put together a document with resources to “help parents understand how to support their students’ health and wellness needs.” The document is at bit.ly/sdusdmentalhealthdoc.

In addition, high school students created the Student Wellness and Education Resources Committee to advocate for and provide help to struggling peers, McDevitt said.

The district also has forged a partnership with PureEdge, a company that McDevitt said “does a lot of work around the intersection of mindfulness and movement. We find that by aligning these two, we can reduce stress and anxiety for our students.”

PureEdge has created programs for classroom brain breaks and the integration of physical education in the classroom and presents webinars for families on its website, pureedgeinc.org. “We will be working with them over the coming months to make sure there are resources and supports at all levels,” McDevitt said.

She said the district also is implementing programs from Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre, which does “a lot of work around resilience and trauma-informed practices in very student-friendly, youth-facing ways.”

For district staff, McDevitt said wellness webinars provide “techniques and strategies for staff as they’re coming back on campus,” along with the Employee Assistance Program, which offers support for mental health and help with “child care and elder care as well as financial and legal advice.” SDUSD’s EAP has more than 100 programs available, she said.

A school wellness coordinator is identified at every SDUSD site — “a staff member who has another role [who has] been assigned by the principal to take on the role of coordinating a school wellness committee,” McDevitt said. It could be a nurse, PE teacher, counselor or principal.

The wellness coordinator helps the district “assess what wellness looks like at their site and then plan toward improvements over time,” McDevitt said.

Normally, the district’s wellness program translates to nine key areas: food and nutrition, physical education, physical activity, health education, health services, safe school environment, social-emotional wellness, staff wellness and family and community.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and schools transitioning to an online format in March 2020, the district pared its wellness focus to five areas for the current school year, McDevitt said: “mental health and well-being, COVID-19 prevention, physical education and activity, social drivers of health — which can include food security and housing — and the wellness of our staff.”

“We do make sure that equity, diversity and inclusion are a part of that process across the system,” she said.

The resources McDevitt explained are “just a starting point,” she said, noting that additional resources will become available as reopening progresses.

“There’s going to be a lot more coming,” she said. “It’s important to lay a foundation for wellness in our district.” ◆