How to provide mental health care before students start school

Districts of Distinction honoree Jurupa USD gives students a healthy start with early childhood behavioral supports
By: | July 15, 2020
Teachers in California's Jurupa USD lead students in restorative circles as part of the district's behavioral and mental health supports.Teachers in California's Jurupa USD lead students in restorative circles as part of the district's behavioral and mental health supports.

An unmet need for mental health care motivated Jurupa USD leaders to develop behavioral supports that begin with prenatal care and continue through graduation.

Getting a healthy start in school can improve the entire trajectory of a child’s education, says Elliot Duchon, superintendent of Jurupa USD, which is the latest honoree in District Administration’s Districts of Distinction recognition program.

“We feel our students are much more ready when they come to school,” Duchon says. “It’s a truly wraparound model that begins with kids before they’re born and follows them and their families through graduation.”

‘Obstacles don’t have to be limits’

In the 2014-15 school year, the county’s mental health agencies were able to assist just 15 Jurupa USD students. Because of the behavioral health program, the district generated 811 referrals in 2018-2019.

More from DA: Improving student engagement with Minecraft

The support begins with pre-natal home visits to pregnant mothers and then continues with music classes and other activities for parents and pre-school children.

The district also funds mental health consultations for Head Start and preschool students who are eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

Jurupa USD leaders say the backbone of the initiative is a central referral system that steers families to the support they need, including when it’s more care than the district’s program can offer.

Administrators in other districts wanting to duplicate Jurupa’s behavioral health supports should start buy building a similar referral system, Duchon says.

Jurupa USD has also partnered with local colleges and universities, which provide social work interns to conduct some of the counseling under the supervision of licensed therapists.

Since the program’s inception, the district has leveraged $400,000 in annual grant funding to serve more than 500 students, ages 0-5, each year. The program has grown to 15 licensed clinicians who provide more than $1 million in services to students and families.

The program has also expanded into districtwide counseling for students of all ages whose families qualify for Medi-Cal, Duchon says.

“Many kids have obstacles, but the obstacles don’t have to be limits,” Duchon says. “A major way for children to get over these obstacles is to build a sense of self confidence and self-efficacy.”

Increased anxiety, pre- and post-COVID

Jurupa’s USD free-and-reduced lunch rate is 80%, and it also serves many undocumented students.

More from DAHow CTE soars on Wichita high schools’ aviation pathway

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, educators were seeing a sharp increase in anxiety, including in students worried about their family’s immigration status.

Since the outbreak, the district has provided more counseling to students concerned about applying and transitioning to college during a pandemic, Duchon says.

The district’s services have also expanded into food backs and clothing closets,” says Jose Campos, the architect of the program and the district’s director of parent involvement & community outreach. “We look at what we need to develop so everybody has learning without limits.”