Denair Unified Excited to Begin Mentorship Program, Seeks Adult Volunteers to Work with Students

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Be someone who matters for someone who matters.

That is the main thrust behind a mentorship program set to begin early next year in the Denair Unified School District.

Trustees were briefed about it by Superintendent Terry Metzger at Thursday night’s board meeting.

The goal, Metzger explained, is to identify community volunteers willing to meet one-on-one for an hour each week with a student. The program will be overseen by Sierra Vista Child & Family Services, a nonprofit based in Modesto that operates a similar system with the 30,000-student Modesto City Schools District.

Informational meetings for potential mentors are scheduled for Jan. 10 at noon and Jan. 15 at 5:30 p.m. at the Denair administration office. They will be a chance for those interested to learn more about the mentoring program from Sierra Vista officials.

“We’re very excited,” Metzger said. “We feel like we have a number of students who can benefit from another caring adult in their lives.”

She already has reached out to local service clubs and said the response has been positive. All mentors will undergo a background check and screening conducted by Sierra Vista, which also will provide training.

The weekly meetings will be held during school hours on the child’s campus. Students from all grade levels and mentors will be matched based on teacher referrals and Sierra Vista’s expertise.

“It could be a conversation in the library or shooting hoops outside,” Metzger explained. “Most often, these students just need someone to be there to listen. They need an adult. Sometimes they’re being raised by their grandparents or caring for their younger siblings. They need someone who can be there for them.”

The partnership is an extension of a larger mental health pilot program that began this fall, also in collaboration with Sierra Vista. A full-time mental health clinician is stationed at Denair Middle School to work with students and their families from all DUSD campuses.

The program is funded by the Legacy Health Endowment, whose mission is to provide financial and technical support to improve the health of people living in Stanislaus and Merced counties. The nonprofit was created in 2014 as part of Tenet Healthcare’s acquisition of Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock.

One of Legacy Health’s grants funds a program directed by Sierra Vista that focuses on the mental health of people living in southeastern Stanislaus County. Research by Sierra Vista shows that some children and teens in the area can be adversely affected by their socioeconomic status or rural living conditions.

“That can lead to greater risk of anxiety, depression and self-harm, including drug or alcohol use,” Metzger said.

With that in mind, Sierra Vista Executive Director Judy Kindle – who lives near Denair – suggested that the school district become an incubator for the pilot program. Metzger quickly agreed.

The mental health clinician provides services not just for Denair students, but also their families, Metzger explained. Referrals come from the students themselves as well as teachers, principals or even family members.

“Our goal is to help families in crisis who have long-term needs,” she said. “If our students can be assisted by our counseling staff, that’s what happens. But this opens up Sierra Vista resources for the students and their families.”

Metzger used a hypothetical example to describe how the mentoring program and mental health access might overlap.

“A high school student suffering from depression might see the clinician, but his or her siblings who need someone to talk to might see the mentors,” she said.

In other action Thursday, trustees:

  • Heard the first interim budget report from Chief Business Officer Linda Covello. Attendance across the district is 1.9% higher than expected, including an increase of 12 students at the middle and high school level. If that continues through the end of the school year, it will mean an additional $200,000 in revenue to the district, Covello said. Multi-year projections anticipate continued growth, with the elimination of deficit spending in the 2020-21 school year. “We remain cautiously optimistic,” Metzger said.
  • Reviewed the updated California School Dashboard results. Areas of strength include the district’s high graduation rate and the middle school’s low chronic absenteeism. The district will continue to focus on academic achievement, particularly in math.
  • Honored the state championship football team and coach Anthony Armas. The Coyotes thrilled local fans by winning the Division VII title Dec. 1, beating Santee of Los Angeles 42-14 at Jack Lytton Stadium.
  • Approved the addition of a college course at Denair High School. Beginning in January, an American sign language course taught by Modesto Junior College instructor Pam Martinez will be offered for up to 30 high school students each Thursday from 4:30 to 7:35 p.m. Students who pass the course will receive college credit.
  • Elected Trustee Reggie Gomes to be the board president for 2019. Crystal Souza was chosen as clerk. Board meetings will continue to be the second Thursday of each month.
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