La Mesa Spring Valley Schools Support Students Social-Emotional Needs

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When recent storms caused severe damage to Bancroft and Kempton Literacy Academy, the La Mesa-Spring Valley Schools department in charge of student mental health supports was fully prepared.

“After the floods, and throughout the following days, we had social workers and counselors on campuses ready to meet either one-on-one with students, in small groups, or in classrooms to talk to all the kids together,” says Jennifer Coronel, LMSV’s Director of Student Supports.

The team also helped teachers process the disaster, which included all Bancroft Elementary students being temporarily relocated to Spring Valley Academy Middle School.

“In La Mesa-Spring Valley, we are fortunate to have a social worker and/or counselor at every one of our schools and the team really stepped up its efforts in response to the floods” continues Coronel. “They’ve been working closely with families to find out their needs and to support students’ social-emotional wellness by getting them the resources needed to come back to school and feel safe.”

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ESSPN’s Built-In Emotional Supports

One area of support that was already in place and ready to respond immediately was an innovative aspect of the district’s ESSPN after-school sports program. Coronel explains: “When we created the ESSPN program we determined that sports are a great way for a lot of our kids to connect, particularly for those who typically don’t connect with school.”

The program encourages students to combine social-emotional skills with skills learned in team sports, such as teamwork, decision-making, and mutual respect. These skills in turn help to guide and empower students to use the skills learned through sports to better cope in the classroom.

“Once a week at school sites where ESSPN is held, our social workers do a one-hour lesson on how to combine SEL (social-emotional learning) skills with skills learned in team sports,” explains Coronel. Topics covered include teamwork, decision-making, and mutual respect. “This then helps prepare them to go out onto the field and play,” adds Coronel.

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“The coach of each team in the ESSPN league is in the classroom while the social worker is doing the lesson so that they can then reiterate the skills the kids learn when they’re outside practicing and playing games. The social worker then goes out and watches the games. This collaboration gives students a good acknowledgment or understanding of what it means to be a team player.” 

Benefits of this approach include knowing “what it means playing team sports, how to respect and get along with your teammates, learning to share decision-making, and how to argue in a polite manner,” says Coronel.

Helping Families Connect to Resources

In addition, Frost and the school district’s nurse, Elaine Pendoley, have worked to build relationships with the Health and Human Services Agency. As a result, the HHSA donated one of its staff members to work out of the school district office one day a week. During this time, they meet with families and help them enroll for services like CalFresh, or navigate and troubleshoot their particular situations.  

To help students focus on school work during the traumatic time, the district social work team also put together a bank of resources, lessons, and circle activities for teachers to implement with students when they return to class. “I think there was a lot of apprehension among students about returning, and a lot of processing help was needed,” says Coronel. 

“A lot of kids lost their housing or lost pets so it was really traumatic for some. But we prepared them to return with coping skills plus prepared them for the rains that came after, knowing that some kids would have a PTSD-kind of experience again.”

All of these efforts illustrate how the hard work, dedication, and collaboration of all involved have helped LMSV students navigate and overcome such a difficult time, while also equipping them with new skills. 

Even Tony Thurmond, the state Superintendent of Schools, was impressed when he toured the flood-damaged areas at Bancroft. As well as announcing new help and resources, Thurmond praised the LMSV team for their remarkable efforts. 

Perhaps most importantly, the experience has instilled confidence in students that LMSV is fully prepared for any such future challenges. 

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