.East Bay Schools Prioritize Mental Health for Student Success

Post-pandemic support includes counseling and well-being services for students and parents

Entering the new, post-pandemic normal on private school East Bay campuses, no one doubts the echoing trauma reverberating in students’ lives. Because academic rigor and success rest on a fulcrum that includes social and emotional stability, almost every K-12 school and most higher education institutions have dialed up well-being services, including increased resources that benefit parents and caretakers of school children and young adults. 

Educators have invested in training designed to address specific distance-learning and Covid-related issues, such as how mental health challenges uniquely impact students arriving from underserved or low-income communities, college kids transitioning to adulthood, LGBTQ+ students, or students who do not identify as white, and immigrants for whom English may not be the primary language spoken at home, among others.

With all of that in mind, a brief survey of four lower division schools and two private colleges in four East Bay regions represents examples of counseling and support services offered to student populations. To investigate any one school more thoroughly, parents can explore their websites or, preferably, arrange an onsite visit.

At Head-Royce School in Oakland, approximately 900 K-12 students arrive from more than 80 zip codes. Class sizes average 18, with an 8:1 student-teacher ratio. Students of color compose 67%; 52% of faculty/staff are people of color; and 27% of the students receive need-based assistance. Impressively, the college matriculation rate is 99%.

Head-Royce encourages healthy eating and physical fitness but also fosters self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-advocacy through the curriculum. Student support services include a team of learning specialists, counselors, a health educator and school nurses. Counselors meet with students individually or in groups for short-term counseling, conduct classroom lessons and observations, and collaborate with additional student support professionals. 

Student check-ins, conflict resolution facilitation, one-on-one parent consultations and other social-emotional services are arranged according to specific needs. Skill and health classes target developmentally appropriate tools for middle and upper school students exploring identity, empathy, privilege, power and healthy relationships.

Head-Royce School, headroyce.org, 4315 Lincoln Ave., Oakland; 510.531.1300.

The all-day Julia Morgan School for Girls (JMSG) includes grades 6-8. Founded in 1999, the approximately 130 students are 53% students of color. Sixty-five percent of staff hold advanced degrees, with a class size average of 20 and a student-teacher ratio of 9:1. And because the school is located on Mills College/Northeastern University campus in Oakland, students have access to art galleries, a library, soccer field, pool, sports complex and performance spaces on a secure campus.

Social and emotional health at JMSG is grounded in a commitment to meeting the high level of the girls who demand rigorous academics, individual attention, interdisciplinary approaches and learning that involves a number of factors. These include social justice, emotional growth, diverse self-directed pursuits, awareness of environmental and geo-political topics, active service to their peers and the local community, and giving that extends globally, from environmental concerns to those in need of humanitarian aid. 

The GO GIRL program is a vital component for girls at the school. Following the 8th-grade rafting trip, students develop and apply leadership skills in the real world with themed service-learning field trips focused on social justice, such as Aging with Dignity, Education Matters and Homelessness in the Bay Area. 

GO GIRL is designed to specifically bolster girls’ sense of power, independence, intellect and compassion, aimed to last long after graduation. The school counselor is a licensed clinical psychologist and (2003) alum whose doctoral program at The Wright Institute included trauma-informed adolescent mental health training.

Julia Morgan School for Girls, juliamorganschool.org, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., PMB 9966, Oakland; 510.632.6000.

Berkeley’s East Bay School for Boys (ESBS) actually started with girls, when parents and educators at the Julia Morgan School for Girls decided boys deserved a similar opportunity for single-gender learning. Envisioning sessions held in 2009 led to the foundational elements of the school that began with four staff members and 18 boys in 2010. Expanding to a larger campus, EBSB has grown to 20 faculty and staff, 16 board members and approximately 100 grade 6-8 boys.

EBSB’s advisory program is the nucleus of social-emotional learning for students. The daily period offers students a small group environment to develop relationships with each other and with an adult advocate. By establishing even one close relationship with an adult at a school, studies have proven academic success is increased. 

During the sessions, students learn the school’s core principles and practice respectful methods of listening and communication. Individual learning plans, when warranted, serve students needing more support with accommodations that might include reduced coursework or extended time to complete assignments and tests. 

East Bay School for Boys, ebsfb.org, 2340 Durant Ave., Berkeley; 510.621.3272.

Founded in 1965, The Athenian School’s 75-acre campus in Danville features 135 fruit trees. The coeducational school for grades 6-12 as of 2023 had 537 students. Day programs and a boarding school attract local, national and international students who thrive in average class sizes of 15. Curriculum, sports and experiential learning clubs and programs offer abundant onsite and offsite opportunities. Sixty-four percent of students identify as “other than white,” and approximately 24% receive financial assistance.

A learning services team assists every student to build resiliency, and advisory sessions in small groups are grade-specific in the topics addressed. All sixth-grade students take a life skills class to develop tools for emotional growth. Ninth-grade students cover an array of physical and mental health topics in a “Sociology: Society and Self” course. Peer-to-peer support and a professional school counselor provide added backbone to the curriculum. 

The Athenian School, athenian.org, 2100 Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd., Danville; 925.837.5375.

Mills College at Northeastern University, in the months following the merger with the East Coast institution, continues its emphasis on equity, social justice and leadership by women and nonbinary people. 

On the 135-acre Oakland campus, mental health support and counseling services include Find@Northeastern, a mental health program through which students can access free, confidential, unlimited and 24/7 support from a licensed mental health counselor by phone, iPad or laptop. Additionally, Northeastern’s We Care program aids students when significant issues arise and provides information to faculty and staff who request guidance to identify existing Northeastern resources and policies that help students succeed.

Professional staff in the Counseling and Psychological Services Office (CAPS) on the Oakland campus use in-person, short-term therapy to address mental health challenges common for today’s college students, such as depression, anger, loneliness, sexual concerns and assaults, roommate and family conflicts, violence or trauma related to racial or gender-phobic issues, body image dysmorphia, eating disorders, drug addiction and more. 

For academic stress due to perfectionism, anxiety, financial planning or concerns about student debt and future work, the department offers informed counseling support. For students experiencing a severe or emergency mental health crisis, CAPS’ After Hours Crisis Support Line is available on weekdays after 5pm, and on weekends and holidays.

Mills College at Northeastern University, mills.northeastern.edu, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland; 510.430.2255.

Graduate and full-time undergraduate students at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga receive assistance through the private college’s similarly designed CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) programs. Initial appointments begin with either of two 45-minute, in-person individual sessions; a “one and done” consultation in which a therapist and a student identify strategies to address a specific issue, or a session involving solution-based treatment planning that might include ongoing or group therapy, or referral to a community resource for treatment exceeding the CAPS center. 

Urgent sessions for crisis care are available, as is a two-hour “Question, Persuade, Refer” suicide awareness and prevention training for students, faculty and staff. The college aims to train at least 20% of the Saint Mary’s community to become QPR gatekeepers.

Saint Mary’s College of California, stmarys-ca.edu, 1928 St Marys Rd., Moraga; 925.631.4000.

Lou Fancher
Lou Fancher has been published in the Diablo Magazine, the Oakland Tribune, InDance, San Francisco Classical Voice, SF Weekly, WIRED.com and elsewhere.

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