How this district provides psychological support during COVID-19

Newport-Mesa USD, a previous Districts of Distinction honoree, is continuing to monitor virtual master’s-level internship sessions with students
By: | April 29, 2020
In addition to providing school psychological services via a video-conferencing platform during school closures, Newport-Mesa USD leaders are planning to adopt a whole child approach by becoming a trauma informed school system.gettyimages.com: Ariel Skelley

As districts complete the transition to online learning, school leaders are now grappling with ways to virtualize other programs, such as school psychological services.

In California, Newport-Mesa USD uses a video-conferencing platform to continue a multitiered school psychological support initiative that District Administration’s Districts of Distinction program honored in 2016 with plans to adopt a whole child approach through trauma informed teaching in the fall.

Master’s-level interns from the Southern California School of Social Work now meet with K-12 students once per week for 30 minutes via Zoom, which district social workers supervise. “We had to seek guidance privacy rights and ensure student rights were not being compromised in this environment, especially in the area of confidentiality and student information,” says Phil D’Agostino, director of student and community services.


Related: Why districts need to provide mental health services during COVID-19, report reveals

Related: How this district is building relationships with at-risk students during COVID-19

Related: Face student anxiety head-on in light of coronavirus uncertainty


Although the internship program has been running smoothly online, the district expects a significant drop in intern applications for the 2021 school year. “This can be due to students putting their education on hold or because social work programs are figuring out how they do distance learning,” says D’Agostino. “Regardless, this will have an impact on the services we provide for students and families.”

Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s mental health team meeting via Zoom on April 30.

To support the program’s other school psychological services, district leaders use the web-conference platform to maintain communications with more than 30 of its community partners, including Hoag Hospital Newport Beach, Aspire, and the Center for Healthy Living and Waymakers. The district also provides other mental health services.

School psychological services embrace whole child approach

Prior to COVID-19, the district planned to adopt an integrated system that would involve training principals, teachers and new hires on the whole child approach this coming fall. “Teaching the whole child doesn’t just include providing academic supports, but mental health and wellbeing supports,” says D’Agostino. “If this will have to be done in a virtual environment, then we will.”

For example, the district plans to become a trauma informed school system to improve its school psychological support program. “We need to consider the trauma that has been inflicted on students and families as a result of this shutdown, and we are beginning to discuss what that will look like and how we will roll out trauma informed teaching in the fall,” says D’Agostino. “We are moving away from a reactionary response to COVID-19 and are now taking a proactive posture so we can be prepared for what comes next.”

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