School-based wellness: An innovative approach to improving teenage mental health

Being a teenager is hard. 

It’s always been this way, but recent increases in anxiety and depression have many experts warning of a mental health crisis for America’s teenagers. Seven out of ten teenagers are concerned about the issue, and no gender, race or income level is immune, according to the Pew Research Center.

Tess Amer, a mental health advocate at Fairview High School, knows the pressures Boulder’s teenagers face firsthand. As a licensed counselor and certified teacher, she oversees the school’s Wellness Center, a cozy and calming space that welcomes teenagers seeking mental health support.

Fairview High School Wellness Center

What is the purpose of Wellness Centers?

Fairview’s Wellness Center is one of six Boulder Valley School District centers where teens can destress, self regulate, talk to a counselor or get a referral for additional support. In Amer’s room, the light is kept soft and low and is decorated with plants and comfortable chairs. Students can unwind using one of the many wellness tools scattered throughout the room, including kinetic sand, weighted blankets and fidget toys. “The room itself is a wellness tool,” said Amer.

“It offers a reprieve from the demands of the school day where students have to be focused and diligent, and it’s also a physical retreat from the harsher lights and louder sounds in the rest of the school building. Students are served and supported simply by being in the room.”

When they come to her Wellness Center, Amer greets every student and does a quick check-in. Not every student wants to chat, but if someone needs some additional support, she’s there to help. Generally, she finds that when students need help, it’s usually to talk to and process with a safe adult. “The beauty of the room is that many students access it simply as a place to relax and destress. Over time, they develop a relationship with me without noticing, and if a time comes when they experience higher stress and anxiety, or there is an emergent situation, we’ve already developed trust.” 

“The room itself is a wellness tool. Students are served and supported simply by being in the room.”

Unlike traditional school counselors who carry a caseload of hundreds of students with responsibilities ranging from writing college recommendation letters to managing 504 plans, Amer and the other five Wellness Center mental health advocates focus solely on providing mental health wellness counseling and support. “Teenagers are experiencing immense stress and anxiety around school and feeling pressure to do well academically,” she said. “They feel overwhelmed managing school sports and activities or need support managing family dynamics and friend struggles.”

The impact of school-based wellness

The Wellness Centers are meeting the need—at Fairview, 40-50 students access the Wellness Center daily. Across the district, these Impact on Education funded centers served 1,301 students, who made 7,711 visits during the fall semester of the 2023-2024 school year.

Students with Tess Amer in Fairview High School Wellness Center

Amer believes the skills and techniques her students learn in the Wellness Center will serve them into adulthood. “If we can teach them how to take a break, care for themselves, regulate their emotions and develop coping skills, then in the future we’ll have a community of functioning, well adults.” Boulder Valley students receive vital wellness services completely free of charge, thanks to a partnership with Impact on Education.

The organization not only funds the Wellness Centers but also covers the salaries of ten dedicated mental health advocates, including Amer. “Impact on Education saw a problem and developed a tangible solution to address mental health where students are—in the schools,” said Amer. “They are an innovative and collaborative partner for the school district, and I am so grateful for their support of our students.”

“Impact on Education saw a problem and developed a tangible solution to address mental health where students are—in the schools.”

BEFORE YOU GO …

Impact on Education is an independent non-profit supporting the Boulder Valley School District. We depend on the support of our community to put our mission into action. Will you help us provide opportunities and resources to students across the Boulder Valley School District?

How BVSD Wellness Centers support student resilience

A safe space to spend your off-period, a refuge during an anxiety attack, a place to connect with your friends – these are just a few of the reasons students are visiting Wellness Centers across Boulder Valley School District.

BVSD created its first Wellness Center at Monarch High School in response to the Marshall Fire. When we saw the impact the Wellness Center had on their school community we committed to opening five more and sustaining the one at Monarch. Impact on Education funding is now supporting six high school Wellness Centers at Boulder High, Centaurus High, Fairview High, Monarch High, Nederland Middle-Senior and New Vista High.

One month into the school year, over 1,000 students have made over 2,320 visits to BVSD Wellness Centers to relax, refocus and seek support.

In 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless regularly for at least a two-week period that they stopped doing their normal daily activities.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What is a Wellness Center?

The Wellness Centers are welcoming and calming spaces with soft lighting and relaxing music. They are filled with flexible, comfortable seating and sensory activities like fidget toys, puzzles and kinetic sand. Each Wellness Center also offers free tea for students, courtesy of The Tea Spot

But the most important part of each Wellness Center is the mental health professional, a Mental Health Advocate, there to support each student who walks through the door.

One Mental Health Advocate described their Wellness Center as “a cozy cafe,” while students shared that they like “the vibe” and having a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of their school.

“Students have shared that it feels special to them. They are torn between telling everyone how awesome it feels to relax in the room and wanting to keep it a secret.”

– Mental Health Advocate, BVSD Wellness Center

The goal of the Wellness Centers is to provide students with accessible, safe spaces on school campuses that offer mental health support and promote social-emotional wellness. Students are able to visit the Wellness Center anytime during the school day to rest and recharge, connect with their peers, or talk with a trusted mental health professional.

How Wellness Centers are impacting school communities

The Mental Health Advocates leading BVSD Wellness Centers say they’ve been surprised and excited by students’ willingness to share and open up when they are in a crisis. One was also surprised by the reactions of their school staff, sharing that “so many teachers have reached out to tell me they appreciate having a safe place to send students instead of them going home or disappearing to the bathroom.”

We asked the Mental Health Advocates why students have been visiting and it was commonly to:

And often, while a student may start visiting for one reason, they continue going for another. One student who started visiting because it was a safe place to spend her off period, was eventually comfortable opening up about a difficult personal experience she was going through.

Students need support to manage their emotional health. The Mental Health Advocates can help teach them how, while the Wellness Centers give them the space to do so.

“We’re funding these Wellness Centers across Boulder Valley School District because we believe they’re powerful tools for supporting our youth and helping them thrive.”

– Allison Billings, Executive Director of Impact on Education

Reducing the stigma of mental health

So far this school year thousands of students have already visited BVSD Wellness Centers and schools will continue to build awareness of these new spaces in their school communities. The next step for Impact on Education is to supplement the Wellness Centers with meaningful opportunities for parents to engage and gain tools and resources to support their students at home.

BVSD is also creating “a continuum of services” for all students and has a robust offering of mental health resources available to BVSD students and their families.

BEFORE YOU GO …

Impact on Education is an independent non-profit supporting the Boulder Valley School District. We depend on the support of our community to put our mission into action. Will you help us provide opportunities and resources to students across the Boulder Valley School District?

Community conversation brings youth mental health to the forefront

Young people today are experiencing a mental health crisis unlike anything we’ve seen before. Nearly one in five youth in Colorado reported poor mental health in 2021 — double the rate seen in 2017. Social media, the pandemic, and climate change were just some of the external pressures students and parents cited during A Community Conversation: Supporting the Mental Health of Our Youth, a panel discussion that gathered more than 300 people at Manhattan Middle School on April 12, 2023. 

Panelists included clinicians, community health professionals, educators, and people with lived experiences. All agreed that the conversation starter was an important step toward equipping the community with information that can bridge the generational divides and produce healthy dialog that will lead to solutions.

Impact on Education hosted the event in collaboration with UnitedHealthcare, Centura Health, Comcast, The Colorado Health Foundation, and Boulder Valley School District. 

“Impact on Education is committed to providing an elevated level of mental health support for all BVSD students. Beyond what we can provide during the school day, engaging families and the community is a crucial part of supporting student mental health and well-being.”

– Allison Billings, Executive Director at Impact on Education

Watch with English captions

Why we need to talk about mental health

According to the CDC, it is estimated that one in five children ages 3-17 experience a mental disorder each year, the most common of which are ADHD, anxiety, behavioral problems, and depression. The CDC reports that in 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless regularly, for at least a two-week period, that they stopped doing their normal daily activities. Furthermore, a CDC study states that compared with pre-pandemic levels, teenagers are more likely to experience persistent feelings of distress or malaise that interfere in their lives. They are more likely to think about suicide and more likely to attempt it.

How the community can support our youth

The event presented the idea that, together, the community can elevate the mental health and well-being of our youth. Panelists discussed the current risks facing our youth; techniques for communicating with children about their mental health needs; and school, community, and health care resources available to parents. Information about local and state trends, as well as the risks, influencing factors, and available supports were shared with the audience, primarily parents of students in BVSD. 

“Fostering resilient children requires engagement with their families, friends, mentors, and the community. At UnitedHealthcare, we felt privileged to be an organizing sponsor of this important event with our partners at Impact on Education and the Boulder Valley School District.”

– Marc Neely, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Colorado & Wyoming

Discussions also included clinical expertise on trends; resources available to parents; and how to start and sustain mental health conversations with kids. 

To access resources distributed at the event click here. For those who were unable to attend the event, Comcast is producing a television special which will be available for viewing online soon.

BEFORE YOU GO …

Together we can elevate the mental health of our youth. Impact on Education is committed to the mental health of BVSD students. Your gift helps provide Wellness Centers and Mental Health Advocates in schools, and resources and training to support the well-being of staff, students and their families.

Why we need to talk about youth mental health

Supporting mental health for our students and youth is a crucial part of our education system. Mental health has a significant impact on a student’s academic performance, social interactions, and overall well-being, and unfortunately mental health challenges have skyrocketed among children and teenagers. 

It is estimated that one in five children ages 3-17 experience a mental disorder in a given year, the most common of which are ADHD, anxiety problems, behavior problems, and depression. And in 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless regularly for at least a two-week period that they stopped doing their normal daily activities.

COVID-19 disruptions impact youth mental health

When schools closed in March 2020, no one knew how remote instruction and limited access to student support services would impact students. The disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to have significant, long-term impacts on a variety of youth outcomes. Early research indicates decreased rates of focus, attention and sleep, and increased clinginess, fear, and irritability among youth.

The pandemic and school closures also disrupted school-related supports and services that are fundamental to children’s development and well-being. A recent study surveyed 1,504 U.S. parents to determine the impact of the pandemic on the social-emotional well-being and educational needs of their school-aged children during the 2021–2022 academic year. Results indicated that:

Compared with pre-pandemic levels, teenagers are more likely to experience persistent feelings of distress or malaise that interfere in their lives. They are more likely to think about suicide and more likely to attempt it.

The Guardian

The majority of parents (83.5%) reported a school-related need, with 57% reporting mental health challenges and 77% reporting learning supports and enrichment needs. Parents reported their child’s highest priority needs to be for tutoring, socialization, increased instructional time, managing stress, and physical activity.

Not only is suicide the third-leading cause of death for youth ages 15–19, but one in four adolescents age 12 to 17 have had a substance use disorder or a major depressive episode in the past year.

While the pandemic disrupted normal routines and social interaction, our community has also experienced a mass shooting and a destructive wildfire in recent years, making it even more critical for schools and parents to prioritize mental health support for our youth.

How we are supporting the mental health of BVSD students

One of the most promising mental health interventions is school-based services. Within BVSD, students have access to counselors, Mental Health Advocates, and other engagement specialists for social-emotional and behavioral support, student achievement and crisis intervention, individual and group counseling, and referrals to external resources. To expand BVSD’s ability to support students and their families, Impact on Education has:

Another important element of support is educating students and their families about mental health and reducing stigma. Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in supporting their children’s mental health.

Many students may feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help for their mental health concerns, and many parents don’t know how to communicate with their children about mental health. By providing mental health training and educational resources for students, families and BVSD staff, we hope to help reduce this stigma and encourage students to seek the support they need.

“Schools, families and teens themselves have an important role to play to address this crisis and they are eager to find tools that can make a difference.”

Mental Health First Aid

Next month we are hosting a free mental health panel discussion for parents. In partnership with BVSD, Centura Health, Comcast, and UnitedHealthcare, Impact on Education will gather clinicians, BVSD educators and administrators, community health professionals and people with lived experiences, for “A Community Conversation: Supporting the Mental Health of our Youth.” Panelists will discuss the current mental health risks facing youth, techniques for communicating with children about their mental health needs, resources available to parents, and more.

Join us on Wednesday, April 12 >>

Building a better future

Impact on Education is working to raise both the awareness and funds needed to address youth mental health as we would any other physical illness. Mental health issues are increasingly prevalent among children and teenagers, and we can all help create a community that prioritizes the mental health of our youth.

By helping students feel safe and supported at school and offering support to those most likely to positively influence someone at risk, we’re bringing mental health out of the shadows.

Browse BVSD’s mental health resources
https://www.bvsd.org/parents-students/health-and-wellness/mental-health

BEFORE YOU GO …

Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We need your help to to provide opportunity and resources to 29,000 students and 4,000 educators in the Boulder Valley School District.

Funding mental health and student well-being

Immediately after the Marshall Fire, mental health professionals from surrounding school districts came to BVSD to work with impacted students and families. During this time, it became apparent that providing students with ongoing mental health support during the school day was the most effective way for Impact on Education to support their recovery.

Since January 2022 we’ve worked closely with BVSD staff to continue providing this additional level of support, which includes:

BVSD’s first wellness center

At Monarch High School, where 1 in 10 students was impacted by the Marshall Fire, a Wellness Center was created to support students in August 2022. Staffed by a full-time counselor, the Wellness Center provides students a safe place to recharge and speak with a trained professional during the school day. 

Wellness Center Impact
August – December 2022

How Mental Health Advocates are supporting students and families

Mental Health Advocates (MHAs) focus exclusively on mental and behavioral health, supplementing what BVSD school counselors can provide. Within BVSD, MHAs:

The intensity of mental health concerns and the time required to provide support and intervention varies dramatically from case to case. The additional MHAs ensure the schools impacted by the Marshall Fire have the intensive layer of mental health support needed, and expand the district’s capacity to respond to mental health needs.

Mental Health Advocate Impact

August – December 2022

Our funding priorities

Impact on Education is committed to providing an elevated level of mental health support for all students, especially those affected by the Marshall Fire. Meeting these three goals would allow us to serve 11,698 students at 12 schools across BVSD:

  1. Scaling the Wellness Center program by replicating the model to offer it at 5 BVSD high schools
  2. Retaining four MHAs supporting through the 2023-24 school year
  3. Providing mental health training and educational resources for students, families, and staff

Join us to ensure students have mental health supports available during the school day.

BEFORE YOU GO …

Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We need your help to to provide opportunity and resources to 29,000 students and 4,000 educators in the Boulder Valley School District.

Why our Marshall Fire support continues

In early 2022, we began supporting the immediate and long-term recovery of the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) students and educators affected by the Marshall Fire. Our work has provided:

To see a full summary, please visit our Crisis Response page.

Prioritizing mental health

Immediately after the fire, mental health professionals from surrounding school districts came to BVSD to work with impacted students and families. During this time, we saw that providing students with mental health support during the school day was the most effective way to support their recovery. 

We worked closely with BVSD staff to continue providing an additional level of support. Impact on Education quickly enabled BVSD to hire four additional Mental Health Advocates (MHAs).

The new MHAs were hired in the spring of 2022 to support BVSD’s most impacted schools. They provided over 130 consultations and direct support to 93 families and 359 individuals and directed families to additional resources from Impact on Education, BVSD, and community partners, including:

Our partners with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy shared that six months after a disaster is often when the financial and emotional realities begin to sink in. Knowing these important moments would happen over the summer break, we allocated funding to ensure two MHAs could work over the summer to support 330 students.

Providing support during the 2022-23 school year

Mental Health

The MHAs continue to provide services at our most fire-affected schools. They provide students with consultations, family support, individual counseling, and support groups. MHAs also support the district Trauma Response teams and facilitate Resilience in Schools and Educators (RISE) sessions for educators and staff.

Financial and academic support

Early in the school year, we learned that families were continuing to experience or experiencing new financial challenges. We worked with BVSD to provide a way for families to request additional support, and are providing funding to cover the costs of school meals, transportation expenses to and from school, free virtual tutoring, and after school care.

Our work is not done

We know the needs of our community will continue and change through the 2023-24 school year. We are currently working on multiple ways to continue expanding the mental health services and resources available to both students and their families.

BEFORE YOU GO …

Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We need your help to to provide opportunity and resources to 29,000 students and 4,000 educators in the Boulder Valley School District.

3 ways we’re making a difference in 2023

Last year held many challenges for our community and our organization, but our commitment to creating opportunity for success, from preschool through graduation, supported BVSD students furthest from resources. If you haven’t already flipped through our 2022 Impact Report, we encourage you to see what we accomplished last year.

While we’re continuing to support recovery from the Marshall Fire, gearing up to recognize educators at the 2023 Impact Awards, planning our summer school supply distribution Crayons to Calculators, and preparing another round of our Academic Opportunity Fund, there are three important areas we’re excited to invest in this year.

1. Mental health and wellness

Our investment in four Mental Health Advocates supporting the schools most impacted by the Marshall Fire continues through the summer, and this spring we plan to offer educational opportunities for parents around adolescent and teen mental health. We’re also eager to start raising the funds to continue the Wellness Center at Monarch High School and expand it to BVSD’s other four large high schools (Broomfield, Centaurus, Fairview and Boulder) in the 2023-24 school year.

2. Career readiness

Over the next few months, we’re convening over 20 Career Readiness Academy workshops at three BVSD high schools. This program will help 60 students gain the skills, confidence and knowledge to pursue summer job and internship opportunities. Meanwhile, we are continuing to support the rollout of the GradPlus program. This includes identifying the improvements needed at BVSD’s middle and high schools to support career and technical education pathways and programs.

3. Early childhood education

This year our early learning program for incoming BVSD kindergarten students will shift to a four week, full-day program! We fund Kinder Bridge, now part of BVSD’s summer learning program, because access to early learning is not equitably available to all children who will enroll in the district. Kinder Bridge ensures 160 historically underserved students arrive prepared for school classrooms and excited to learn.

We hope you join us this year in supporting nearly 30,000 students in the Boulder Valley School District. Our work addresses systemic barriers and prioritizes those furthest from resources in order to equalize opportunity and bolster academic success.

Thank you for being part of our community and making investments to help us drive lasting change for students, educators, and our public schools.

BEFORE YOU GO …

Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We need your help to to provide opportunity and resources to 29,000 students and 4,000 educators in the Boulder Valley School District.

Five ways we’re supporting the mental health of BVSD students and educators

Supporting the mental health of our students and educators is a critical need for our community. Impact on Education is committed to helping the Boulder Valley School District provide mental health support for students from kindergarten through graduation, and providing opportunities for educators to help both students and themselves. Having school-based support is critical to navigating mental health struggles and we’ve made five key investments in mental health so far this year:

Professional development for BVSD School Age Care staff

November 2021 and August 2022

School Age Care (SAC) supervisors and assistant supervisors serve a diverse group of students daily at 32 sites throughout Boulder Valley School District (BVSD). From grade levels to academic ability levels to emotional and behavioral health levels, SAC staff must manage each student’s needs and create a safe environment outside of school hours for students and staff. 

Impact on Education worked with Calming Kids to provide targeting professional development to 72 SAC staff who work with students before and after school. Participants gained self-regulation skills and learned how to better equip themselves to provide social-emotional support for all students.

RESeT Fairview Day

January 2022  |  Daily Camera article (paywall)

Fairview High School paused instruction for one day (January 7, 2022) and offered a day of conferences that focused on four areas: prevention/education, mental health, self care and leadership.

RESeT Fairview Day was a student-led conference funded by Impact on Education that allowed students to engage in a variety of training and learning activities. There were five sessions of over 40 presentations throughout the day making the content accessible to over 2,000 students. 

Four new BVSD Mental Health Advocates

May 2022  |  Daily Camera article (paywall)

Impact on Education provided funding for BVSD to hire four mental Health Advocate positions in the spring of 2022, a few months after the Marshall Fire. Within BVSD, Mental Health Advocates provide prevention and intervention services for students, supporting their social-emotional and behavioral development, student achievement, and crisis intervention.

Mental Health Advocates can also provide both group and individual counseling support and work directly with students, parents, and staff members. For more acute counseling needs, they help families access external resources for mental health. As a direct result of the Marshall Fire and the mental health impacts this is having on our community, we are working to immediately increase the mental health services available to BVSD students.

The four new Mental Health Advocates are assigned to the seven schools most directly impacted by the Marshall Fire, supporting 6,061 students. They’ve collectively expanded access to mental health services by 35%, providing over 130 consultations and offering direct support and services to 93 families and 359 individuals. 

Professional development for BVSD educators

November 2022

The mental health of educators and school staff directly impacts the students in their classrooms. Through our Academic Opportunity Fund we were able to fund two school requests to support mental health needs at their schools.

At Monarch PK-8, Beth Kelley, author of Teaching, Learning and Trauma, will conduct two professional learning sessions focused on helping‌ ‌teachers‌ ‌respond‌ ‌to‌ ‌students‌ ‌who‌ ‌are‌ ‌dysregulated‌, strategies‌ ‌to‌ ‌avoid‌ ‌retriggering‌ students‌, and identifying ‌‌where‌ ‌students are ‌in‌ ‌their‌ ‌own‌ ‌transition, grief, or trauma‌. Beth also joined sessions for students dealing with trauma and worked directly with students experiencing higher levels of trauma.

We also provided funding for Centaurus High School to improve school wide behavior interventions targeted at addressing school culture, supporting psychological needs and addressing truancy through the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) lens. 

All Advocates for All Youth program 

Program launches in 2023

In partnership with Dr. Jill Kaar, a behavioral epidemiologist at CU-Anschutz Medical School, Impact on Education is supporting the implementation of the All Advocates for All Youth (ALLY) program in several Boulder Valley middle schools. 

The ALLY program pairs community volunteers with middle school students for six 1:1 sessions. The discussions will provide students with a mental health curriculum that includes a common vocabulary around behavioral health, destigmatizing mental health intervention, and supporting emotional wellness.

BEFORE YOU GO …

Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We need your help to to provide opportunity and resources to 30,000 students and 4,000 educators in the Boulder Valley School District.

IOE funding expands mental health support for BVSD students and staff

This post is an updated version of this article posted on February 25, 2022.

Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a pediatric mental health state of emergency in May of 2021, citing skyrocketing demand for mental health services among Colorado’s youth. In addition to the well-documented impact of the pandemic on mental health, our community also experienced a mass shooting and Colorado’s most destructive wildfire in 2021. 

BVSD is committed to providing mental health support for students from kindergarten through graduation. For young learners, sharing feelings and learning to work through problems will be all they ever know, and for older learners, having school-based support is critical to navigating mental health struggles.

We’re investing over $800,000 to support the ongoing mental health needs of students and staff throughout the Boulder Valley School District.

Mental health professional development for BVSD staff

School Age Care (SAC) staff serve a diverse group of students daily at 32 sites throughout Boulder Valley School District (BVSD). From grade levels to academic ability levels to emotional and behavioral health levels, SAC staff must manage each student’s needs and create a safe environment outside of school hours for students and staff.

Impact on Education funded six hours of Calming Kids professional development for BVSD School After Care educators to teach them strategies for managing student mental health needs and their own. The first sessions were held in 2021 thanks to a partnership with the City of Boulder’s Housing and Human Services Department, and additional sessions are planned for 2022.

Expanding BVSD’s team of mental health advocates

In the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), referrals of students to Mental Health Advocates have risen by 86% this school year compared to the same period during the 2020-21 school year. 

Mental Health Advocates supplement what BVSD’s school counselors can provide since their focus is exclusively on mental and behavioral health. Within BVSD, Mental Health Advocates: 

Impact on Education provided funding to hire four additional Mental Health Advocates to be deployed year-round in BVSD’s schools most impacted by the Marshall Fire. 

“We are seeing a significant increase when it comes to the social-emotional support our students need at this critical moment. Those impacted by the fire are working to process everything that happened. It was a deeply traumatic experience and it will take some time for these students to cope with the tremendous amount of loss and PTSD that everyone impacted by the fires are struggling through.”

Tammy Lawrence, Student Support Services Director

The additional support of four new Mental Health Advocates will ensure all of the schools impacted by the Marshall Fire have the intensive layer of mental health support needed, and expand BVSD’s capacity to respond to mental health referrals. 

The intensity of mental health concerns and the time required to provide support and intervention varies dramatically from case to case, but BVSD’s leadership is confident that adding these clinicians to the School District team was the most critical immediate step.

Funding to support mental health has come from our generous community partners


YOU CAN HELP …

Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We are still actively raising funds to support the mental health needs of Boulder Valley students and staff. You can help by making a gift to support this work.

Increasing mental health support for students most affected by the Marshall Fire

Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a pediatric mental health state of emergency in May of 2021, citing skyrocketing demand for mental health services among Colorado’s youth. In addition to the well-documented impact of the pandemic on mental health, our community also experienced a mass shooting and Colorado’s most destructive wildfire in 2021. In the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), referrals of students to Mental Health Advocates have risen by 86% this school year compared to the same period during the 2020-21 school year. 

What are mental health advocates?

Within BVSD, Mental Health Advocates provide prevention and intervention services for students, supporting their social-emotional and behavioral development, student achievement, and crisis intervention.

Mental Health Advocates can also provide both group and individual counseling support and work directly with students, parents, and staff members. For more acute counseling needs, they help families access external resources for mental health. As a direct result of the Marshall Fire and the mental health impacts this is having on our community, we are working to immediately increase the mental health services available to BVSD students.

Raising funds to expand BVSD’s team of mental health advocates

Impact on Education is actively seeking funding to facilitate hiring four additional Mental Health Advocates to be deployed in BVSD’s most impacted schools. The additional staff would be assigned to the 7 schools most directly impacted by the Marshall Fire, serving 6,061 students, 687 of whom lost their homes or remain displaced. With more than one in every ten students losing their homes and nearly all students at these schools impacted by the evacuation orders and trauma of temporary displacement, these are the schools with our most pressing mental health needs right now.

“We are seeing a significant increase when it comes to the social-emotional support our students need at this critical moment, those impacted by the fire are working to process everything that happened. It was a deeply traumatic experience and it will take some time for these students to cope with the tremendous amount of loss and PTSD that everyone impacted by the fires are struggling through.”

Tammy Lawrence, Student Support Services Director

The additional support will ensure all of the impacted schools have the intensive layer of mental health support needed, and expand BVSDs capacity to respond to mental health referrals. The intensity of mental health concerns and the time required to provide support and intervention varies dramatically from case to case, but BVSD’s leadership is confident that adding these clinicians to the School District team is the most critical immediate step.

Nearly half of the necessary funding was secured from a donation from the Community Foundation’s Boulder County Wildfire Fund and we are actively working with other funding partners to secure the balance of the required funding.

The importance of mental health support right now

Increasing mental health support to the students most affected by the Marshall Fire will benefit approximately 6,061 students in 7 of the 32 schools home to students impacted by the fire. BVSD’s Mental Health Advocates collaborate and make appropriate referrals to partners including Mental Health Partners and Jewish Family Services.

Mental Health Advocates supplement what BVSD’s school counselors can provide since their focus is exclusively on mental and behavioral health. They work directly with the administration in each school building to determine the needs, and then collaborate on what curriculum to use to meet individual students’ needs. This includes working in collaboration with school counselors to ensure there is a direct impact for each student, and extends into providing services to the teachers and staff who always play a key role in supporting the social-emotional health of the students.

District seeking additional mental health grants

Beyond their funding request to Impact on Education, BVSD is requesting two emergency grants, one state and one federal, to provide additional mental health staffing and support to schools most impacted by the Marshall Fire.

“We are tremendously grateful for the support of Impact on Education and our entire community, as we work to provide support for those impacted. This is not a situation that will be resolved in days or weeks. We must be ready to help our fellow neighbors for the many months and years it will take to not only rebuild, to once again feel safe and to return to normalcy.”

Dr. Rob Anderson, BVSD Superintendent

Read more about BVSD’s plans to hire school counselors, nurses, and outreach positions in this story from the Daily Camera.


YOU CAN HELP …

Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We are still actively raising funds to support the mental health needs of Boulder Valley students and staff. You can help by making a gift to support this work. On the donation form, where it says “My donation is for” please select “Critical Needs Fund – Marshall Fire.”

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Impact on Education
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