One of many first belongings you discover when getting into Yosemite Center College’s Bear Cave, the campus’ social-emotional hub, are the numerous pairs of rainbow-colored hand prints protecting the partitions.
Yesenia Lopez, a social-emotional paraprofessional who staffs the room, mentioned it’s a practice amongst college students who use the house to depart their mark, actually, so future college students can see what number of of their friends got here right here earlier than them.
However these hand prints solely start to seize the mark that the Bear Cave, which takes its title from the college’s mascot, has additionally left on Yosemite’s college students.
Lopez, like her colleagues within the house – amongst them the college psychologist, counseling assistants, and the college’s social staff – is there not simply to oversee however to lend an ear if a scholar wants to speak and to attach college students with the suitable sources, relying on what problem they’re coping with.
The Bear Cave has been round for 12 years, first opening its doorways in a smaller unused classroom in 2010 earlier than relocating to a much bigger, unused store room on campus in 2014.
Yosemite’s principal, Nichole Horn, mentioned the college’s workers knew their college students had been strolling onto campus with “plenty of trauma.” Whether or not that stemmed from points at dwelling, conflicts with their friends, or problem adjusting to center faculty, a lot of their college students wanted a secure house to entry social-emotional help and to study new coping abilities.
“This was form of earlier than the time period ‘social-emotional heart’ was there. We simply knew we would have liked an area,” she informed the Training Lab.
However greater than a tricked-out enjoyable hub – which it’s, with something from a Wii, Lego Child Yoda, chess set, and artwork provides for the scholars to make use of – it’s one of many faculty’s most vital social-emotional interventions.
The Bear Cave makes use of a “multi-tiered system of help” to establish and handle numerous emotional, psychological, and social challenges college students face. It provides a variety of sources to assist college students course of trauma, construct wholesome coping abilities, and resolve conflicts in ways in which keep away from disciplinary motion like suspension that separates them from their friends.
As well as, staffers say the Bear Cave has helped make it much less of a scary, stigmatized factor for college kids to get assist from psychological well being professionals. District directors establish this system as a part of Fresno Unified’s broader efforts to normalize getting assist when college students want it.
“So once they felt overwhelmed … and both needed to run away or to behave out or damage themselves, they might have someplace to go and somebody to speak to.”
Nancy Miser, former program supervisor for Fresno Unified’s Particular Training Division
“The extra we normalize youngsters’ emotions and educate them methods to confront these large points that occur of their lives, the higher off it’s going to be for the kid, but additionally our group,” mentioned Kate Alvarado, this system supervisor with FUSD’s particular schooling division who oversees social-emotional workers within the district.
However measuring the Bear Cave’s success in serving to college students is difficult when it comes to knowledge.
The varsity has struggled with increased suspension charges than the district and state, even after the Bear Cave opened. Workers mentioned that these numbers don’t inform the entire story, nonetheless, and discovering the suitable methods to measure the success of social-emotional interventions is half the battle.
The Bear Cave was the brainchild of Nancy Miser, the previous program supervisor for Fresno Unified’s Particular Training Division, who retired in 2017.
Earlier than locations just like the Bear Cave existed, there was extra of a one-size-fits-all method to supporting college students coping with something from an “emotional disturbance” to a studying incapacity, which was to take away them from the final scholar inhabitants.
This response additionally concerned isolating college students in self-contained school rooms. This wasn’t the suitable recourse for all of them, nonetheless, as many college students with so-called emotional disturbances like anxiousness perform at grade stage or above and belong within the common ed inhabitants, she mentioned.
“This was form of earlier than the time period ‘social-emotional heart’ was there. We simply knew we would have liked an area.” Yosemite’s principal, Nichole Horn
“One of many concepts that we had was to offer (these college students) a help heart,” she mentioned. “So once they felt overwhelmed … and both needed to run away or to behave out or damage themselves, they might have someplace to go and somebody to speak to.”
The Bear Cave turned that heart at Yosemite, and it’s open to all college students by design. At the moment, it runs as a hybrid referral-based and drop-in house. Some college students get referred by their lecturers or mother and father to the Bear Cave for one-on-one counseling with the college’s psychological well being help workers.
Earlier than faculty and at lunchtime, nonetheless, the Bear Cave is a drop-in house open to all. Workers doesn’t take attendance, so Horn didn’t have precise numbers to share on what number of college students cease by every day. However Horn and Lopez mentioned they now see a median of 20 to 45 college students every day throughout lunch.
“That’s helped us to additionally work with a number of college students that we would not have recognized (about) in any other case,” Horn mentioned.
Workers additionally conduct battle mediations within the Bear Cave – an vital intervention on the faculty the place many college students have been disciplined for fights lately. Kong Vang, the college psychologist and a co-designer of Yosemite’s house alongside Lopez and Miser, informed the Ed Lab that the scholars he’s labored with by the years are getting higher at not resorting to bodily violence in conflicts.
On common, Bear Cave workers do “about seven restorative conferences/battle mediations per week,” wrote Yosemite trainer Laura Walsh in an e-mail to the Ed Lab. Most are between college students, however some are between college students and lecturers, Walsh added.
Even when colleges worldwide shuttered in the course of the pandemic, the Bear Cave stayed open — nearly, not less than.
Learn the sequence
Educators and others are experimenting with new methods to deal with college students’ psychological well being wants — or reinvent previous methods.
Lopez mentioned she partnered with Walsh to host a room on Microsoft Groups the place college students may check in throughout lunchtime and nonetheless have some social engagement with each other and the Bear Cave workers. Lopez and Walsh additionally put collectively actions, one instance being once they requested college students to make slideshows introducing themselves.
Some days they noticed as many as 60 college students check in.
“We needed them to know that, you already know, we had been nonetheless right here,” she mentioned. Digital Bear Cave programming additionally helped Bear Cave workers get to know new college students earlier than assembly them in actual life as soon as FUSD resumed in-person instruction.
Alongside the hand prints protecting the Bear Cave’s partitions are picture collages of workers and former college students who frequented the Bear Cave. Lopez mentioned these traces of scholars’ older friends’ – and in some instances, their older siblings’ – time within the Bear Cave helps usher new college students in, as does its drop-in nature.
That’s what helped deliver eighth grader Efrain Salmeron Roneron, 14, to the house this previous faculty yr.
“I used to be within the cafeteria getting breakfast. Miss Lopez mentioned my title,” he mentioned. “I used to be like, ‘How are you aware my title?’”
She informed him she knew his brother. And that’s how he acquired caught “like gum” to Lopez.
His favourite a part of the Bear Cave is the talks he and Lopez have, which get private at occasions, he mentioned. They discuss life and what’s taking place on campus.
“I’d say the Bear Cave made me a greater particular person. As a result of there may’ve been plenty of issues that might’ve occurred, however Miss Lopez had prevented them,” he mentioned. “I in all probability wouldn’t have been at college, however she had saved me.”
“She’s a hero,” he mentioned.
Efrain additionally talked about a boys’ group he was a part of this previous faculty yr, which Lopez hosted. The small group of roughly three met often to speak about issues like working by arguments with pals.
Lopez mentioned this wasn’t the one small group she’d hosted. One yr, she was requested to facilitate a ladies’ group – at 7:30 a.m. on Fridays earlier than the primary bell.
“In my head, I believed: How am I going to get these ladies to be right here at 7:30?” she mentioned. “I needed to be artistic.”
Her answer? She discovered what every lady’s favourite breakfast meals was and had it ready for them each Friday. Lopez mentioned she lined the price of breakfast for the women together with her personal cash.
“Not certainly one of them missed the morning group. That lasted for about eight months,” she mentioned.
Regardless of the successes of the Bear Cave, Yosemite Center College’s efforts to decrease general suspensions over the previous decade have produced blended outcomes.
Yosemite’s general fee of suspensions every faculty yr has additionally gone up and down, dropping as little as 8.5% within the 2015-16 faculty yr, one yr after the present Bear Cave location opened, but spiking as excessive as 17.5% within the 2018-19 yr on the faculty. Yosemite’s annual enrollment ranged between roughly 600-750 college students over the identical interval.
Horn, who has labored on the faculty for 12 years, acknowledged that the college’s disciplinary knowledge has been unsteady. However these numbers are the product of many elements, to not point out the pandemic in the latest years, which has taxed college students’ psychological well being and led to a rise in college students performing out in school rooms throughout FUSD and the nation.
“There isn’t only one knowledge level that one can put a finger on,” Alvarado mentioned of gauging social emotional well-being in college students. “It’s a mixture of all issues.”
Alvarado mentioned that she recommends different elements alongside disciplinary knowledge, resembling attendance for college kids who use the Bear Cave. Coming from a particular schooling background, she additionally mentioned the variety of college students being positioned on an Individualized Academic Program — or the variety of college students taken off of 1 — are additionally price contemplating.
Jessica Hannigan, an assistant professor at Fresno State’s Kremen College of Training and Human Improvement, mentioned it’s useful for colleges to triangulate disciplinary knowledge with surveys to gauge workers, scholar and guardian perceptions of social emotional studying and interventions.
Lopez mentioned she needs she would’ve had an area just like the Bear Cave, rising up — and that extra college students in Fresno may have one, too.
That’s already turning into a actuality, district officers mentioned. FUSD spokesperson Diana Diaz wrote in an e-mail to the Ed Lab that Calwa Elementary’s Eagles Nest and Wolter’s Elementary’s Wild Cat Den are examples of comparable social-emotional hubs at different colleges. All of the district’s complete highschool’s even have comparable packages referred to as “Re-Engagement Facilities.”
Miser oversaw the launch of some comparable packages at colleges throughout the district. However Yosemite’s has at all times stood out, due to the passion Yosemite’s directors have proven for this system from the start, in addition to the consistency of getting the identical workers within the room yr after yr.
Constructing out the Bear Cave has additionally been more cost effective than different packages. It didn’t require Yosemite to use for aggressive grants or rent extra workers. Directors have solely gotten permission to make use of website funds a handful of occasions to buy furnishings for the house, Horn mentioned.
Via the years, a mixture of guardian and workers donations have crammed the room with ample furnishings, video games and crafts. Yosemite has additionally partnered with native companies like Jamba Juice and Me-n-ed’s Pizzeria for fundraisers, in line with Vang.
However on the finish of the day, it’s much less in regards to the house itself or the issues in it, Lopez mentioned, than it’s in regards to the college students and workers who move by its doorways.
“All of it comes all the way down to relationships, and permitting the children to know that you just care. That’s what I’ve discovered. As a result of as soon as they know that, it adjustments all the things,” she mentioned.
That’s one of many different belongings you’ll discover first when you go to the Bear Cave, notably throughout lunchtime.
As college students filed in, some rushed to the chess desk or recreation console. However a lot of them additionally discovered a seat near wherever Lopez, Walsh, Vang or different Bear Cave workers had been sitting, simply to speak.
This story on secure areas was produced by The Training Lab at The Fresno Bee, an area journalism initiative that highlights schooling points important to the development of the San Joaquin Valley, as a part of the challenge “Supporting college students: What’s subsequent for psychological well being,” in collaboration with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, unbiased information group centered on inequality and innovation in schooling, The Christian Science Monitor and the Training Labs at AL.com, The Dallas Morning Information, The Put up and Courier and The Seattle Occasions. Join the Hechinger e-newsletter.