A $100,000 grant from Blue Shield of California is providing support to the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) to develop and expand wellness centers across Santa Clara County schools.
Blue Shield’s funding builds upon the foundation of the district’s comprehensive youth mental health program that began two years ago.
In 2020, Dr. Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County superintendent of schools, and the district secured $6 million in grant funding from California’s Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission to develop student wellness centers.
The grant is also funding an increase in the number of mental health professionals at school campuses and providing relevant training to school personnel. The funding was part of the Mental Health Services Act of 2019, a $65 million state measure to provide youth mental health services.
“In California, mental health conditions are the number one reason children are hospitalized, so supporting mental-health solutions is a key focus for Blue Shield,” explained David Bond, director of Behavioral Health at Blue Shield of California. “We believe the County’s innovative approach for on-campus wellness centers will produce good health outcomes for one of the most vulnerable populations affected by mental illness.”
“There is strong evidence to support mental-health investments in schools,” Dewan said. “School-based wellness centers provide a comprehensive and integrated mental health program and accessible youth mental health and wellness services.”
The district quickly put the $6 million in funding to work. In the fall of 2021, it launched 12 wellness centers in all the county’s public elementary, middle, and high schools. The wellness centers are managed through a collaborative partnership between the SCCOE, the Behavioral Health Services of Santa Clara County, local school districts, and local community-based organizations (CBOs).
Before this state-funded program began, Santa Clara County students received significantly less mental health support than students in the rest of the state; only 2% of the county’s students received mental health support services as of 2019.
“This program creates schools as centers of wellness, provides prevention and early intervention, promotes positive mental health strategies and help-seeking skills while reducing stigma and risk factors,” Dewan added. “In one wellness center, for example, more than 700 student visits were recorded during the first week it opened.
“Student exit surveys indicate a dramatic increase in the number of students feeling happy, calm, and less sad after leaving the wellness centers,” she said.
With Blue Shield’s investment, the SCCOE can develop the next phase of its wellness program. According to Dewan, the district will use $75,000 of Blue Shield funding to coordinate and build internal capacity for maintaining and expanding wellness centers across the county.
“The goal is to ensure that the model is implemented with fidelity, is replicable, and sustainable,” she said. “This funding will allow for intentional planning, additional workdays for staff for continuous improvement, including designing the scope of work, examining lessons learned, aligning best practices, and planning for next steps in the countywide expansion of the model. Funding will also support professional learning for wellness center staff to ensure evidence-based, culturally relevant, consistent activities at all sites.”
The remaining $25,000 of Blue Shield’s funding will be used to educate students and market the program with print and online materials that illustrate best practices for successfully implementing a wellness program, as a learning tool for districts across the country, Dewan said.