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Fresno Schools Increase Focus on Students’ Emotional Health

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Fresno Unified trustees and administrators talk about providing for students' social emotional learning. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)
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Fresno Unified students are improving academically since returning to classrooms but are still struggling with social-emotional issues and are in need of even greater support, district officials say.

On Wednesday, they gave a preview of a proposal to increase resources aimed at improving students’ mental health and wellness. The School Board will consider the budget plan at their upcoming meeting.

Although the board has received budget presentations at its meetings over the past two months, this marked the first time the district scheduled a news conference to talk about specific spending, a sign that officials wanted to put a spotlight on students and their social-emotional well-being.

Many are continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, and anger, emotions that arose during the pandemic and that have continued to plague them, Superintendent Bob Nelson said.

Investing in Social-Emotional Resources

Over the past 10 years the district has increased spending on social-emotional resources and learning from $5 million to the $38 million proposed for the 2022-23 school year budget, he said.

Over that time, staffing also has increased, from 50 employees five years ago to “well over 200” in the budget proposal, Nelson said. The majority are working at school sites where they have direct contact with students, he said.

(Editor’s note: This story originally reported that the funding and staffing increases occurred over five years. The district on Thursday said Nelson misspoke at Wednesday’s news conference and should have said the increases occurred over 10 years.)

How does social-emotional wellness and learning impact academics? Students who are dealing with emotional issues may be too distracted to focus on their academic work, he said.

Board clerk Veva Islas, who represents the McLane High School area, said she has seen firsthand in her job as a nonprofit executive the struggles that families have faced during the pandemic over food, housing, and even funerals.

“So these investments are what care looks like,” Islas said, referring to the extra dollars proposed for the district’s Department of Prevention and Intervention. “These investments are what love looks like. These investments is what prevention looks like, and I’m very proud to stand in space where we’re making this happen for our children.”

Students who are more well-adjusted are less likely to act out in violence, making schools safer and more secure and decreasing the need for intervention and discipline, she said.

The district’s presentation was sparked in part by the recent news of a brawl at Fresno High School and of fights that have occurred at other campuses.

Superintendent Says Community Needs to Step Up

The district’s work to help students improve their social and emotional well-being is only one part of the equation, however, Nelson said.

Students who come from dysfunctional homes will still struggle, and so it’s up to families and the entire community to work toward healthier and more positive outcomes, he said.

“This is a community-driven solution. If you’re waiting for school districts to fix the social-emotional health of your kids without any intervention on your part, that’s a fool’s errand,” Nelson said. “This is something we all have to be about. It has to be in every home and it has to be in every nonprofit … and it’s just something that’s really important.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email