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Learning Curve: Prioritizing Students' Social And Emotional Health Needs

NATOMAS (CBS13) — Mental health impacts remain a symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic, months after it began. This crisis mixed with distance learning has its own effects on students when they're not in the classroom.

"Staying at home, it's too much for him," said Sumiti Mehta, a mother of two enrolled in the Natomas Unified district.

She's noticed a change in her son's attitude at home since distance learning began, "I could see the kind of things that would make him angry, just stuck in the home with just four people around."

She attributes it to more time in the house rather than the classroom, and it's a feeling felt by students and families across the greater-Sacramento area. The Natomas Unified School District is stepping up in new ways to bridge that gap.

"There's just things that have to be different during this pandemic for our students and families," Superintendent Chris Evans said.

What's different this year in Natomas is that each school is getting a new employee. Social workers will soon be hired and assigned to every elementary and K-8 school in the district, on top of the school counselors and psychologists that already operate within.

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The goal is to connect with students on an individual level virtually, and in more extreme cases, make home visits when it's safe.

"Kids are going to need help and parents to understand what this is like," Evans said. "Not just this year but the next few years."

This multi-year commitment to the social and emotional health of students is one Natomas Unified's Heidi Hostetler said can hopefully be an inspiration to all.

"The healthier we are emotionally, the better we do in everyday experiences," Hostetler said.

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Other districts like the San Juan Unified District say they're addressing the issue as well. Schools in the district already receive services from 'support centers' that have been in place for a few years. But the district now plans to add a referral service for those who want to find a private provider outside of school walls.

All of the help for mental health serves as a beacon of hope for parents like Mehta and her family, anxiously waiting for the slightest bit of normalcy to return.

"It's not just students. Even adults at this point are trying to handle the situation," Mehta said.

In Natomas, Superintendent Evans said they're not stopping at social workers, and are talking about extending extracurricular activities while considering adding virtual ones too.

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