Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, Nov. 13, 2023 @ 12:20 p.m. / Community, Education

DNUSD Says $10 Million Community Schools Grant Will Lower Barriers to Education, Health for 'Whole Family'

DNUSD Superintendent Jeff Harris introduced county supervisors to the Community Schools Partnership Program at the Board's Nov. 7 meeting.


Community Schools Presentation


Noting that the community is a healthcare desert, a food desert and an “anything pediatric” desert, Jeff Harris says Del Norte Unified School District aims to use a $10 million grant to reduce barriers for everyone.

DNUSD’s superintendent introduced the Board of Supervisors to the new Community School Partnership Program. Funded through the California Department of Education, the district is already using those grant dollars to hire social workers and family engagement liaisons, and to establish Care Closets for its foster and homeless youth.

“The one thing I’ve said since I’ve come to the community is our schools are really a hub of what happens locally,” Harris told supervisors on Tuesday. “We have students that will be leaders in this community that are going to soon be out of school and be, hopefully, very productive contributing members to our community. And when we talk just broadly, whether it’s business, education, health services, whatever it is, no one says we don’t really care about kids. Shared community value is helping kids be the best they can be.”

The California Community Schools Partnership Program is a “whole child” strategy that blends together academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement. However, Del Norte Unified sees the program as a way of building capacity to meet the needs of the “whole family,” Lisa Howard, an instructional coach for the district, told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Friday.

According to Harris, 70 to 80 percent of DNUSD students come from low-income families and 90 percent are eligible to receive services through MediCal.

Right after the COVID-19 pandemic, 65 percent of the district’s 4,500 students were chronically absent, meaning they a month or more of school, Harris said. Some students were missing three to four months of school, he told supervisors.

“Since COVID, our academics have fallen through the floor, our attendance has fallen through the floor,” he said. “As we’re moving ahead, we’re talking about what are these barriers, and one of the things we’re finding is we just don’t have case carriers. We have teachers, we have school counselors and we have administrators. But we’re facing unprecedented results (from) that pandemic and the fallout.”

Video courtesy of Partnership for the Future of Learning. Creative Commons License.

According to Harris and Howard, these new programs won’t disappear at the end of the five-year grant since DNUSD will be able to bill MediCal.

According to Howard, DNUSD has hired a handful of family engagement liaisons who work on reducing that chronic absenteeism rate. They’ll call parents and ask them about the obstacles they face in getting their child to school as well as how they can help, Howard said. This includes to linking them with communal resources.

Family engagement liaisons also hold events at school that they use to keep contact information for parents up to date as well as to gather feedback, Howard said.

Howard mentioned a recent STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) event at Redwood School that drew 100 families as an example.

“You get to see and build and do things with your kid,” she said. “We want families to enjoy being at school and learning with their child. We also have opportunities for them to learn and know more about how to access resources while their child is at school.”

DNUSD is also hiring social workers for the first time — five social workers and one licensed clinical social worker, Howard said. The district has contracted with Wellness Together for Telehealth services and those social workers can provide group and individual therapy sessions, she said.

DNUSD contracted with Wellness Together in September. Three students are receiving services so far and there are several more “in the hopper,” Howard said. Crescent Elk Middle School has created a special telemedicine space as well, she said.

“When we had students of high mental health need, we would refer them to Behavioral Health and Remi Vista has such a long wait period for students to see services,” Howard said, referring to the county Behavioral Health Branch and the local children’s mental health treatment program. “We solve a communal need by attending to that service level on our campus.”

According to Harris, DNUSD already has 30 mental health support staff working with students and is always hiring.

With the grant, DNUSD is offering 30 extra days of school for students through its four-week summer school program. The district is also working with community partners including Open Door Clinic, Sutter Coast Hospital, CASA and “anybody who wants to come in and talk about what’s best,” Harris said.

Howard pointed out that the district has had established memorandums of understanding with local tribes, First 5 Del Norte, the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods, the Community Food Council, the Del Norte Child Care Council and other community organizations.

During the superintendent’s presentation to the Board of Supervisors, Harris noted that DNUSD is looking to fill 100 vacant positions.

On Friday, Howard said the district is in a fortunate spot since those who have been hired on as family engagement liaisons were previously employed by Child Welfare Services or Social Services and were working in Del Norte Schools already.

“We’ve already identified many folks that have an interest in that work,” she said. “The other job openings haven’t affected us directly and so the work has already begun for Community Schools and will go on for the next five years.”


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