Seniors to return to Denair High; elementary students to DECA

A few dozen Denair High School seniors will return to campus full time Monday for the first time in nearly a year, an important step in completing their high school careers by being able to interact in small groups with their teachers and friends.

Denair Elementary Charter Academy, meanwhile, expects as many as 327 of its 550 kindergarten through fifth-graders to be on campus for two days beginning next week. Some will come to school Monday and Tuesday; others on Thursday and Friday. All will remain on distance learning the other three days. In-person classes will run from 8 to 11:30 a.m.

At Denair Middle School, more sixth-graders will be added next week to the on-campus “learning cohorts” that have been in place since November to help students needing academic and emotional support. The goal is to allow additional seventh- and eighth-graders to return by mid-March.

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Denair Targets March 1 as a Time for More Students to Return to Campus, if Local Health Conditions Allow

The Denair Unified School District continues to cautiously explore ways to return more of its 1,300 students to campus, possibly as soon as March 1.

At Thursday night’s Board of Trustees meeting, Superintendent Terry Metzger sketched out scenarios in which about half the district’s elementary students and a portion of its high school seniors could receive in face-to-face instruction for the first time in nearly a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A final decision on moving to Phase 2 of the district’s hybrid learning plan likely won’t be made until at least Feb. 22, Metzger explained, and will be guided by health statistics in Stanislaus County. While the number of local COVID cases, hospitalizations and patient deaths have declined recently, the county still has one of the highest rates of infection per capita in California and remains in the state’s most restrictive purple tier.

The county’s COVID dashboard shows than 53,600 residents have been sickened by the coronavirus and 888 have died. Equally as important, Metzger told trustees, is that there have been about 1,600 COVID cases in the southern portion of the county in the past month, underscoring the need to remain cautious about reopening schools.

“January was a terrible month (for COVID cases), but things are getting better,” she said.

Like many school districts, Denair closed its campuses last March and moved all its students to distance learning. In November, as part of its Phase 1 hybrid plan, small numbers of students at all grade levels were allowed to return as part of “learning cohorts,” with priority going to youngsters needing academic and emotional support.

Phase 2, Metzger told trustees, could include as many as 300 of Denair Elementary Charter Academy’s 550 kindergarten through fifth-graders. Some would come to campus Monday and Tuesday; others on Thursday and Friday. All would remain on distance learning the other three days. Siblings would attend class the same days to make it easier for parents to coordinate schedules. In-person classes would run from 8 to 11:30 a.m.

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Response Strong to Monthly Mental Health Video Series at Denair Unified Featuring Stanford Psychiatrist

Judging by the initial response, the appetite for practical, professional mental health advice among parents and others in the Denair community is strong. More than 860 views have been logged since the first video featuring Stanford psychiatrist Dr. Neha Chaudhary talking about signs of childhood depression and ways to combat it was posted on Jan. 19 on the Denair Unified School District Facebook page.

Chaudhary followed up the video on Jan. 26 with the first of two hourlong Zoom sessions – opportunities for parents and others to ask questions and learn more about the subject. Thirteen people participated in the first Zoom session, according to Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger. A second session is planned for Tuesday, Feb. 2 from noon to 1 p.m.

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DECA Moves to Online Registration for Kindergarten and TK

The application period opened today for parents who would like to enroll their children into kindergarten and transitional kindergarten for the next school year at Denair Elementary Charter Academy.

For the first time, the process will be entirely online. Parents should go to to fill out an application.

Here is the key information:

  • The initial application period will be open from Jan. 21 through Feb. 11
  • From Feb. 16 through Feb. 19, DECA officials will send offers to register for the 2021-2022

school year

  • Upon receiving an offer to register, parents must complete the registration process between Feb. 22 and March 31
  • During registration, families need to complete all online forms and upload all required documentation. Completed registration packets must include a copy of the child’s birth certificate, updated immunization records and proof of residency (such as a utility bill).
  • Parents registering children for the dual language immersion program also must attend a Zoom orientation meeting, then complete a form denoting their understanding of and commitment to the program. Meeting dates are listed in the registration packet. Office staff will provide families with a Zoom invitation link to attend the orientation meeting following the date selection.
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Denair Unified Pioneers Monthly Mental Health Series Featuring Respected Stanford Psychiatrist

The Denair Unified School District is partnering with a renowned Stanford psychiatrist to make it easier to discuss mental health issues potentially facing staff, students and their families. The arrangement is believed to be the first of its kind in Stanislaus County and among just a handful nationwide.

The partnership began Tuesday, when the first in a yearlong series of videos was posted on the district’s Facebook page. In the video, Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist, and Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger introduce the program and talk about the first topic – childhood depression.

After each video is posted, Chaudhary will host live Zoom calls on the next two Tuesdays, giving parents and others an opportunity to discuss questions and concerns and get additional information. For instance, the Zoom follow-ups to the issue of childhood depression will be on Tuesday, Jan. 26 from 10 to 11 a.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 2 from noon to 1 p.m. Links will be posted on the district website.

Spanish translation of the videos and the Zoom calls will be available upon request.

The program is being funded through a grant from Legacy Health Endowment in Turlock, which has worked with the district on a variety of other health initiatives in the past few years.

The timing of the new program is directly related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Denair’s 1,300 students, their families and school employees, Metzger said. Most students have been taught exclusively via distance learning since Denair’s four campuses were closed in March. The situation has created stress at every level of the education system.

“Our work with Dr. Chaudhary … is a result of conversations with Legacy Health Endowment about preparing the school system for the return of students to campus,” Metzger explained, adding that Legacy CEO Jeffrey Lewis “has been very concerned about mental health issues for some time — and not just for children, but also for adults.”

Chaudhary comes to the project with impressive credentials. She is double board-certified from Harvard and is the founder of Stanford Brainstorm, which was started in 2016 as the world’s first academic lab dedicated to mental health innovation and entrepreneurship.

Metzger described Chaudhary’s role as instructional rather than clinical. The goal is to give parents tangible resources and information that will help them with any issues their children may be experiencing.

In the first video, for instance, Chaudhary said that “depression may look a little different for everybody.”

“A lot of kids I’m seeing today are struggling with signs and symptoms of depression,” she said. “Parents aren’t sure what’s going on or whether they should be worried. Now, if kids are expressing anything that’s concerning from the safety perspective, like having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, that’s a more clear signal that you need to seek professional help. But what about when it’s less obvious?”

Chaudhary then described some of the symptoms that children may experience — crying and being emotional, lack of motivation (to get dressed, to complete schoolwork, not wanting to have fun, holed up in their room), being angry or lashing out at family and friends, difficulty with sleep, poor appetite and low energy.

She advised parents to “trust your gut,” that “you’re going to know” if something is wrong with their child. She also assures them that depression is “perfectly treatable” and that recognition is the first step in that process.

The hourlong Zoom calls on the two Tuesdays after a video is posted will give parents an opportunity to talk directly with Chaudhary and ask questions.

Metzger said there are other free resources for families who need help. She advised them to call the guidance counselor at their child’s campus, who will then direct parents to “in-house or community-based mental health clinicians.” Chaudhary will be working with the school counselors.

“School counselors are not therapists so while they have some training in behavioral health, it’s not their main focus,” Metzger said. “Dr. Chaudhary will be doing some teaching of what to look for and how to support mental health needs to better equip our counselors to refer families to the right resources.”

A second part of the mental health initiative involves the district surveying teachers about mental health topics they’d like to discuss with an expert. Once that information has been collected, Metzger said, Chaudhary will conduct a combination of teaching and drop-in sessions “to help teachers build their own understanding and hopefully apply their learning to their work with students as well as in their own lives and families.”

Lewis, the Legacy Health CEO, said the goal of the mental health series is “to ensure that when students return to school in person, everyone is ready and prepared to help them.”

He said Denair was a natural place to start because of its “outstanding leadership.” He also would like to extend the program to other districts, saying, “Results will dictate where we go from here.”

Legacy already has piloted mental health programs locally aimed at school superintendents and other administrators.

“Now, our focus turns to school counselors who have to address the myriad of problems students have and will return to school with,” said Lewis. “We believe that we have to ensure that public school professionals are healthy both mentally and physically – if they are not, the transition back to school for students could be even more challenging.”

Legacy has funded free mental health services in Denair Unified to students and their families since the fall of 2018 in partnership with Sierra Vista Child & Family Services of Modesto. A full-time mental health clinician is stationed at Denair Middle School to work with students and their families from all DUSD campuses.