Mental Wellness Team established through district policy

Of the 24 new hires at BHS this year, three have joined former School Safety Advocate Christina Cabrera to form the Wellness Team.  The team is made up of three Mental Health therapists, or Wellness Counselors– Cabrera, Alexandra Cristafi, and Alisa Meyer– under Health and Wellness Coordinator Yvette Yamboa-Wacher, who splits her time between BHS and San Mateo.

This new change was brought about by a district policy in an attempt to provide ongoing support for students that need it.  The program is in collaboration with Stanford and Peninsula Health Care.  Peninsula Health Care provides funding for the new program, and the Stanford Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences provides training.  Additionally, the Wellness Coordinators meet biweekly with representatives from Stanford to discuss and receive reports about the program.

“They’re just kind of looking at how the program’s looking from a bigger lense,” Yamboa-Wacher explains.  “Next year, they actually hope to conduct a whole study on the program.  They’re really hoping that we can be the model for the other high schools in the county.”

Cabrera explains that the Wellness team encourages students to see their school counselors (either Tammy Esrailian, Karen Latham, Luis Mashek, or Carla Renzi) if they need immediate academic, emotional, or social support.  Their counselor will then meet with the Wellness team to discuss whether or not the student needs ongoing sessions with a Wellness Counselor.

“Our whole purpose is to make sure kids can access their education,” Assistant Principal Valerie Arbizu said.

The Wellness Team has established weekly drop-in sessions, during which any student can come in to talk to one of the Mental Health Therapists.  They are also trying to form support groups, for students with similar situations and needs, and working towards doing some class presentations to spread awareness of their services and mental wellness in general.

The Mental Health Team also works with Special Education students who have weekly therapy sessions written into their Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

Yamboa-Wacher is one of three Wellness Coordinators, who is co-responsible for two schools.  Though Yamboa-Wacher does not often meet with students personally, she supervises the Mental Health Therapists that are still working towards their licensees and serve as “gate-keepers” for referrals, helping to decide if a student needs ongoing support.

Though there have been logistical challenges with establishing this program– dealing with paperwork and getting approval from the county council– both Arbizu and Yamboa-Wacher emphasized that working with the new therapists has been pleasantly easy.

“We’re really lucky that we have three full-time counselors at our school, and I think we’re also really lucky that we all work so well together,” Arbizu said.

Though the Wellness team is still fine-tuning the details of their program, they are all unified in their mission: they want to be there for the students so BHS can be the best it can be.

“My desire for Burlingame is to see a school that has a place for everyone but that everyone is a part of,” Principal  Paul Belzer said.