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Grant helps TUSD double mental health services for students

Turlock Unified School District’s first-ever mental health practitioners are already making a difference in students’ lives this school year, meeting the emotional and psychological needs of the district’s school sites.

Jennifer Carlsen and Darrah Wilson were introduced at the Feb. 20 Board of Trustees meeting as TUSD’s new Student Support Clinicians – a job title created after stakeholder surveys showed a real need for mental health support within the district.

Through the Local Control and Accountability Plan, TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Heidi Lawler said that the district received input “year after year” from stakeholders concerned with providing mental health services for students. The issue became a priority for the district, and a job description was developed last spring.

Carlsen was the first clinician recruited by the district, and although TUSD had anticipated hiring just one, a $100,000 grant from the Legacy Health Endowment allowed them to add Wilson to the team as well.

“I just want to thank all the work that’s being done – we know there’s an incredible need out there,” said Trustee Frank Lima. “Thank you to Legacy Health for this grant which is incredibly significant. It will hopefully help us pilot this program and learn how we can better serve our community, because we know we need it and see it every day.”

Prior to hiring Carlsen and Wilson, TUSD provided academic counseling for grades 7-12, and partnered with the Center for Human Services to provide support for grades K-6. Various community organizations also offered their services to the district, including Jessica’s House, Prodigal Sons & Daughters, Tree House Club and CSUS Mentors.

Both Student Support Clinicians provide TK-6 site support, aid in the referral process and oversee the Clinical Assessment Resources and Engagement Program, or the CARE Program, which serves all nine elementary school sites. This school year alone there have been 118 referrals, said Wilson, with 47 students currently in individual therapy.

“Those referrals have been coming in in either electronic form or in a paper form, and they really can come from anyone,” said Wilson. “We’ve gotten referrals from students, from parents, from administrators, from teachers, from yard duty staff – really from anybody who notices a need and really feels like they want to reach out on behalf of that student.”

Siblings have even referred each other, Wilson added, but no child receives one-on-one counseling until a parent, guardian or caretaker has given consent.

The Student Support Clinicians’ goal is to provide assessment for any mental health condition or diagnosis, and then to develop a treatment plan that would address those symptoms. This can include a referral to other supportive services, crisis intervention or simply providing consultation and education on mental health topics.

“We’ve found that we’re treating a wide range of issues – kids experiencing bullying, self esteem issues, adjustment issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, grief – it’s really a broad spectrum,” said Carlsen.

Carlsen and Wilson also provide consultation for teachers and administration, participating in student intervention and special education meetings.

“When you have the training that we have, you’re able to identify things that might be going on that are a little more in depth than a learning issue or education issue,” said Carlsen. “I think we can provide a different viewpoint or different perspective.”

Lawler said that so far, the district has received nothing but positive feedback from those who have worked with Carlsen or Wilson. Moving forward, the pair hopes to integrate more social emotional learning by piloting a toolbox instruction learning experience in two classrooms at each school site, and would eventually like to provide services for students over the summer as well.

Board President Barney Gordon commended the two new clinicians for their work thus far.

“You’re doing probably some of the most difficult work in the district, but I’ll tell you right now, it’s absolutely important,” he said.