San Dieguito focusing on social-emotional learning, suicide prevention


San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) continues to focus on social-emotional learning and the mental health of its students although it has had to adjust its plans since the beginning of the school year.

In August, the district entered a three-year memorandum of understanding with Sandy Hook Promise to offer its programs at no cost to the district, including their “Say Something” initiative to train kids on recognizing the signs and signals of suicide or violent acts and an anonymous reporting system for life-safety threats. At the Dec. 13 SDUHSD meeting, Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services Mark Miller said the district had been hoping for a January 2019 implementation but the programs have been put on hold as Sandy Hook Promise has expanded into three states and taken on several large districts, including Los Angeles Unified.

“It’s become clear that while they have the best intentions, they do not have the infrastructure in place to support a full roll-out within this district,” Miller said.

Miller said the district is building a great foundation for social-emotional learning and staff does not want to stop its momentum to wait for the organization to build capacity. Instead they will look at developing their own district-wide digital anonymous reporting resource, likely an app that will give students an easy way to report incidents of threats, bullying, harassment and intimidation.

At the Dec. 13 board meeting, Miller provided an update on the district’s work on student wellness and social-emotional supports—he said the goal is to infuse social-emotional learning into students’ everyday activities. Social- emotional learning includes helping students develop the ability to feel and show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and understand and manage emotions.

“Social-emotional learning works in service to academic achievement and mastery and, more importantly, this work is needed so we are graduating a generation of students who are empathetic, compassionate and self-aware,” Miller said. “Social-emotional learning is not about one program, one assembly or one training. It’s about building a strong sense of community, a sense of purpose and sense of belonging.”

In the area of social-emotional safety, the district is working on bullying prevention, suicide prevention protocol, and training and threat assessment protocol and training.

“An essential component of social-emotional well-being and safety is prevention and one specific component of prevention is suicide prevention,” said Melissa Sage, coordinator of student services.

All district staff has undergone training and each school has a suicide prevention coordinator. School counselors, social workers and psychologists work together to support students and provide intervention when necessary and each school website has suicide information and resources.

This year, all student ID cards have been printed with crisis hotlines on the back (a practice that becomes state law in 2019) and schools work to raise awareness on the issue with presentations and conversations from Peer Assisted Listeners, Yellow Ribbon Week and other programs.

Sage said there is always room to improve and they have heard feedback from parents about the age appropriateness of the information at the middle school level and the need for more digital resources. Sage said they hope to address those concerns as well as add staff resources and training and “really look at effective ways to have this information be everywhere and also take away the fear and stigma of talking about it.”

“While we have a robust system of support, our work will never prevent every crisis or tragedy from happening,” Miller said. “But through our work we are educating our community on resources and the support system in place, and, more importantly, our work is emphasizing that we are a community.”

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