Throughout last week, a memorial grew in the parking lot in front of Torrey Pines High School, where in the early hours of Saturday, May 6, a 15-year-old Torrey Pines student was fatally shot by police officers after brandishing a BB gun. The student had a suicide note in his pocket. Coming together for the first time since the tragedy, San Dieguito Union School District (SDUHSD) board members offered their condolences at the May 11 board meeting.
“It’s been a really hard week,” said Torrey Pines student board representative Isaac Gelman. “We’re thankful for all of the support and all the love that we feel coming from the whole community around us.”
Meredith Wadley, the district’s director of school and student services, began work early on Saturday, May 6, to bolster mental health support on campus at Torrey Pines that Monday, May 8, bringing in additional counselors, psychologists and social workers to help students cope.
“People wouldn’t have had the help they needed without Meredith,” SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill said.
Wadley provided a report on student wellness at the May 11 meeting, speaking about how the district works to promote social and emotional well-being on campus and create a sense of connectedness and safety for students.
“It takes a village to provide support and services to our students,” Wadley said. “Working together, our counselors, school social workers and school nurses provide interventions to all students.”
Interventions include social personal counseling, group counseling, parent conferences with community resource agencies, classroom support, lots of positive reinforcement, threat assessment of students in crisis and a lot of collaboration with each site’s Associated Student Body leadership and Peer Assisted Listeners to develop school-wide activities.
As part of her report, Wadley said the national recommendation for school counselors is 491 students to one counselor and the state of California averages 822 to one. The San Dieguito district’s counselor ratio is 430 to one, “putting us below national and statewide averages,” Wadley said.
Counselors help students on a variety of issues, including personal, social and emotional challenges, as well as college and career counseling.
“They’re really looking to empower our students to take control of what’s happening of their lives and be the drivers of what’s going on,” Wadley said. “The goal of our counselors is to assist students to develop the ability to monitor and direct their own learning in addition to their personal and social growth…We really want to develop resilient individuals.”
The district also employs 12 school psychologists. The recommended ratio for students to school psychologists is 1,450 to one — SDUHSD is just under that recommendation at 1,076 to one.
For the 2016-17 school year, the district also added a new level of support with school social workers.
The district’s four social workers are on the high school campuses two to three days a week and on the middle school campuses one to two days a week. Wadley said the social workers keep a flexible schedule based on the needs of campuses.
School social workers have initiated over 3,000 contracts to date. Wadley said that number doesn’t include any follow-up and many times a social worker has continued to work with that student or family through as many as three to seven follow-ups.
The district this year has also expanded health services and wellness services by adding a second school nurse. The district has two nurses — the state’s recommended average is 6,000 to one so SDUHSD is just above that ratio at 6,400 to one.
SDUHSD board member John Salazar was surprised at the low number but SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill pointed out that for many years the district only had one nurse so it has, in fact, doubled its numbers this year. Salazar said it might be time to double it again. In addition to nurses, there are also 10 health technicians across the district.
Wadley said that the continued focus for her department is on developing that multi-tiered support system for students — with counselors, school psychologists, nurses and social workers.
“We will continue to focus on maintaining and increasing services for all students, parents and staff,” Wadley said, thanking the board and the superintendent for the support to allow them to do the work they do. “We want to ensure that strong support instructions are in place at all school sites to offer school connectedness and a sense of community for all of our students. I think more than ever, we realize how important that is.”