TTUSD School Year Launches with Strong Mental Health Supports

In a lot of ways, growing up in a rural mountain community is idyllic: fresh air, land to roam, and a tight-knit community. Still, many families living in North Tahoe – Truckee are highly impacted by stress.

Adverse experiences such as poverty, substance abuse, immigration status, trauma, learning difficulties, emotional or mental health disturbance, and the stress of adolescence affect many of our young people. In fact, 35% of 11th grade students enrolled in Tahoe Truckee Unified School District (TTUSD) report chronic sadness and hopelessness which, according to California Health Kids Survey, is higher than nearby school districts and California overall. Rural Placer and Nevada Counties have double the National Average for youth suicide. (Learn more here).

Providing adequate mental health services in rural communities is a challenge across the country. Chronic shortages of mental health professionals and specialized services, higher rates of stigma, and difficulties accessing available health care create significant barriers for our residents.

To tackle these issues, the Tahoe Truckee Youth Health Initiative formed four years ago as a collaborative effort between the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee (CCTT), Nevada County, Placer County, Tahoe Forest Hospital, and TTUSD. The Initiative focuses on providing evidence based, researched programs to address youth mental health, specifically through the Youth Wellness Program.

The program is comprised of Wellness Centers at Truckee and North Tahoe High Schools, and programs at Sierra High, the Community School (Placer County Court School), North Tahoe Middle School, and Alder Creek Middle School. The TTUSD Wellness Coordinator oversees two Wellness Liaisons and Gateway Mountain Center staff who work directly with youth to educate and empower them to have a voice in their own health care decisions. Programs have focused on mindfulness-based interventions, with thirty-five years of research showing that mindfulness strategies improve attention, self-control, emotional resilience, addiction recovery, and immune system health.

This strategic and collaborative approach has drawn the attention of like-minded funders like S.H. Cowell Foundation, local foundations, and donors who are committed to our region’s young people. Rob Katz, Vail Resorts CEO and Chairman, and his wife Elana Amsterdam, cookbook author and founder of Elana’s Pantry, made personal donations to the Wellness Program. Rob and Elana are well known for their generous community philanthropy, and reached out to Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation (TTCF) to facilitate their recent $125,000 grant.

“The welfare of children and families in our local communities who are most vulnerable requires our attention and we feel fortunate to be able to support some outstanding non-profit organizations who work tirelessly to serve them,” said Rob Katz. “We hope our contributions serve as a catalyst for others to join our efforts to help ensure the vibrancy of these incredible cities and towns.”

Rob and Elana’s donation to the Youth Wellness Program is already having an impact in our community.

The Link Crew: Launched this fall, Link Crew is a freshman transition program that trained high school juniors and seniors at TTUSD high schools to be positive role models for incoming freshmen. 84 leaders welcomed approximately 316 ninth graders into their first year of school, and will continue to provide mentorship throughout the rest of their high school career.

Mindfulness & Wellness Programming: Providing training to K-12 teachers and staff to integrate wellness programming and Mindfulness Based Practices into the school day to increase resiliency and healthy coping practices for both staff and students. This portion of the grant also expanded wellness programming both during and after the school day.

Mindfulness Based Substance Abuse Treatment (MBSAT): Piloted for the first time at Truckee Community School, Gateway Mountain Center will expand MBSAT to additional high school sites and after school at their new Youth Wellness Center across from Truckee High School. MBSAT is an evidence-based approach that approaches potential and existing at-risk behaviors in youth by empowering young people to make healthy decisions. Funding will also expand special classes in mindfulness and emotional regulation at Truckee Elementary and Truckee High School.

Measuring Impact: Using a Results Based Accountability (RBA) framework, CCTT partners will track community indicators and relevant data to measure youth substance use and abuse, social connections, and wellbeing. This data is used to continue to adapt programming to serve our youth.

Through these broad-reaching programs, the Youth Wellness Program anticipates that it can optimize its impact on local youth by meeting students where they are and engaging them in evidence-based programs.

“Wellness services provide real-time support for youth facing the challenges of adolescence, which can be compounded living in a rural area. We are fortunate to have a school district and community-based organizations who are committed to providing holistic health services geared toward our youth,” said Alison Schwedner, CCTT director.

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Photograph provided by Granlibakken Tahoe.