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Santa Rosa students hope to be heard as new school year comes with changes to safety, support, facilities | #schoolsaftey

Across all six high schools in the Santa Rosa City Schools district, bathrooms are getting an extreme makeover before students fill them this year.

Each school will have the same bathrooms, said Eric Oden, executive director of facilities, maintenance and operations for the district.

Depending on size, the bathroom renovations cost a range from $190,000 to $250,000 per pair of bathrooms, said Santa Rosa City Schools’ Associate Superintendent, Lisa Cavin.

Two weeks before school started, Olive Blain, 15, an incoming sophomore, saw the state of Montgomery bathrooms, which had been gutted but was far from complete. She looked around at the peeling tile with concern.

“It doesn’t look much different from it used to look,” she said with a look of disappointment on her face.

According to Cavin, the district has no doubt the work will be finished by the time school starts.

“On the extremely slight chance they aren’t, we could bring in portables (porta-potties) for a day or two,” she said.

Incoming student officers Newman, Detrick and Clark hope the school year doesn’t start off with porta-potties, which they are sure will be tipped over if not watched properly.

“We don’t want to make it seem OK that they can make promises to us as well, and then not follow through,” Detrick said.

Teachers stressed the need for the district to listen to students’ concerns about their school environment.

“You can never minimize just the immediacy of physical surroundings and the message it sends,” said Simone Harris, an English teacher at Montgomery who will be in her 18th year of teaching.

Kids are expecting to have their facilities issues addressed after the student advocacy last year, she said. “It’s a signal that people really listen to and care about their needs.”

“I think there’s a real hunger for change and sort of things that will address the systemic problems that preceded a lot of our tragedies and challenges with the pandemic,” she said. “And I think kids notice when there aren’t big changes made.”

Improvements to mental health support

Underlying all of the concerns about safety, facilities and staff changes, is the impact on children’s mental health, which has been eroded by years of wildfires, the pandemic, and most recently, school violence.

Another large-scale project is expected to debut in time for the first day of classes. This one doesn’t require breaking concrete and construction teams, but instead is a transformation of an already existing building on campus that will now become a mental health resource hub.

A new “Wellness Center,” and its staff of mental health professionals will be moving into Montgomery’s previous Student Services Center, whose resources will be consolidated.

“It’s like a triage,” Santos said. “Students can come in, and if they’re having a struggle — social or emotional — or if they’re having a bad day, or something happened in the classroom, they can go and meet with the site-based therapist or the multitiered support counselor and we can triage what’s going on.”

Along with two school site-based therapists and a multitiered counselor, students will have access to a school psychologist, a family coordinator and an Educationally Related Mental Health Services support counselor as well.

“After the struggles that we’ve had, sometimes they just need a space … that they can go to and chill for a certain amount of time,” Santos said. “And then, if they can’t go back to class, let’s talk about what you need to do next. But if they can, let’s get back to class and move forward.”

Centers will be established at all schools across Santa Rosa City Schools, with the help of a community grant from the state Department of Education, Trunnell said.

“We are building the opportunity for students to know what services and supports are on our campuses, which we heard loud and clear in the spring. Our students didn’t know,” Trunnell said. “So we’re reinforcing … that they don’t need to feel isolated, and that they have connections with adults.”

The resources are definitely needed, Harris said. Given the topics that she covers with students in her “Theory of Knowledge” philosophy course, her students are often concerned about societal issues that influence their mental health struggles.

Worries about democracy, racism, economic inequality and climate change are all brought up by students in her classes.

While grappling with these social issues can impact mental health, Harris said, it’s not supposed to deflect responsibility away from school’s in supporting their students.

“Schools really are microcosms of the larger society, so I think it’s important to make those connections but then it’s also important to do everything possible within school communities, to make schools safe and affirming places,” Harris said.

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8531 or [email protected]. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

Report For America corps member Adriana Gutierrez covers education and child welfare issues for The Press Democrat. Reach her at [email protected].

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