Spotlight on Telehealth in K–12 Education

An Inside Look at San Bernardino USD's Whole Child Approach to Wellness

At San Bernardino City Unified School District, our wellness multi-tiered system of support is a comprehensive approach to providing students with the physical and mental health support.

Dedicated to serving the whole child, our district’s Student Wellness and Support Services department leverages professional development and implementation supports to school staff developing systems, practices and data-driven decisions with telehealth services and community partners to provide care and address challenges like chronic absenteeism.

By implementing telehealth services on-campus, students are able to receive immediate medical support, with staff reporting over 92 percent of students returning to class following a visit from the school health office.

Here’s how our student wellness and support services team proactively addresses challenges to support our students.

Student Wellness and Support Services: Gluing physical and mental health together through wellness

At San Bernardino City Unified School District, we are committed to actively improving health, wellness and safety within the communities we serve. To achieve this, we prioritize the health, wellness and safety of our students, defined like this:

Health: An optimal physical, mental, social-emotional and spiritual condition through which individuals are informed optimistic, active and loved; and communities are safe, productive places where individuals work interdependently for the welfare of all.

Wellness: A sense of hope, well-being and personal positive empowerment fostered in caring and giving environments where everyone has access to adequate housing, economic opportunities, and security in communities. Well communities are sensitive to diversity and instill pride by providing a sense of well-being to its members though healthcare, jobs and green spaces.

Safety: An environment that exhibits and values a culture of security, mental and physical stability, order, positive affirmations and embraces diversity of all members.

Our Student Wellness and Support Services department is highly collaborative, working together to ensure students’ physical, social-emotional and behavioral health needs are being met. Physical health can greatly affect mental health (and vice versa), so it’s really important that all of students’ basic needs are being met so they can focus on their academic learning.

How we support students’ physical health needs

I’ve always been a big advocate of telehealth. It provides flexibility and convenience, which is especially important for our student population.

We partner with Hazel Health to support the work of our school nurses, and provide in-school and in-home telehealth appointments to students. The benefit of working with a telehealth provider is having a team of medical providers available to address common non-emergency health concerns, like stomach aches, headaches, eye infections, cold or flu symptoms and asthma symptoms.

Providing this extra layer of medical support means that our underserved students — those who experience difficulty seeking care, like our homeless, foster care and chronically ill students — are able to receive quality care at no extra cost.

Since school nurses aren’t able to prescribe medications on the spot, having a telehealth provider available ensures that students can still get the medicine or treatment they need without a parent having to come to school and take their child to a clinic. This has been especially beneficial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, since families can schedule a virtual appointment for their student from home.

Telehealth is effective for meeting students’ physical health needs, and also for meeting their mental or behavioral health needs.

How we support students’ mental health needs

It’s our belief that all students are entitled to receive the benefits of a comprehensive school counseling program. We have credentialed school counselors who advocate for educational opportunity, equity and access to programs and services so that every student is supported and challenged to achieve their highest potential.

Our counseling services align programs with the California Standards for School Counseling Profession and the American School Counseling Association’s (ASCA) National Counseling Standards.

Just as they support the work of our school nurses, Hazel Health providers also reinforce the work of our counselors. A telehealth provider can evaluate a student’s feelings, needs and symptoms, and then can help the student and their family understand what those feelings and symptoms mean. They can also provide relevant resources and refer students to care experts who are able to meet their specific needs.

Our district has developed a mental health team to provide intensive intervention to small groups of students and individuals. We also partner with Victor Community Support Services, which is a community-based agency that delivers mental health and family support services. Partnering with this community resource means that we’ve been able to provide free mental health services to families throughout the pandemic.

How we support learning continuity and attendance

We view telehealth as a preventative measure to keep students at school, and also as a part of our multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). For our Tier 3 intensive work, where we’re individualizing supports and making sure that we’re advocating for our students, telehealth has been especially helpful. Having a medical provider available to back up the recommendations of our nurses and to relay what a student needs to a parent is very effective.

How we support staff members

When our district decided to scope our social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons and match standards and benchmarks with curriculum, we had an entire team dedicated to grounding our school climate and culture in trauma-responsive mindsets, restorative practices and positive behavior interventions and supports.

We have provided professional development opportunities over the past three years to school leadership for SEL, warning signs and risk factors around mental health, and had our administrators, student wellness team and other staff members participate. Ensuring that every staff member and partner is on board with our initiatives is crucial to the success of our student wellness department.

Keeping students healthy is a group effort

Our student health initiatives are successful because we collaborate with stakeholders through community engagement and town hall meetings, and utilize student and family survey data to consider the unique needs of our district and surrounding community and identify the right resources and partners to meet those needs. We also started small, and worked to gain buy-in from stakeholders so we could strengthen our health and wellness initiatives over time.

To keep students healthy and in school, you must remain proactive in sharing resources with families, emphasizing the importance of collaboration among staff and seeking out the right partners to meet the needs of your district community.