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Chula Vista Elementary School District allocating more money than ever before on mental health support for kids

Many students still facing struggles related to the pandemic.

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — On Wednesday, nearly 30,000 kids in the Chula Vista Elementary School District will head back to campuses full time for the first time in 16 months.

The district runs year-round, so it marks the start of a new year.

While the first day of school is often nerve-wracking, many students are struggling with both social and emotional issues related to the pandemic.

"A lot of our kids have had some pretty hard things to deal with over the last 16 months,” said Elizabeth Gianulis, director of Multi-tiered System of Supports for the district.

She said that includes feelings of isolation, increased anxiety, and experiencing the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19.

"A parent, grandparents, friends," said Gianulis.

As a result, the district is allocating more money for social and emotional support than ever before.

Come this new school year, she says the district has allocated more money than ever before to ensure kids are not only physically safe, but emotionally safe as well.

"Each school will have a full time school psychologist, and then every school will have access to a school based counselor or social worker," said Gianulis.

The district, which is made up of 46 campuses and nearly 30,000 students, has always had psychologists available. but not to this extent.

Gianulis said her staff has quadrupled.

"Pre-pandemic, a handful of schools had part-time support from mental health providers but not to this level where they actually have their own school counselor or their own school social worker," she said. 

Within the first couple weeks of returning, kids will get to meet their counselors and social workers, so they know who they can talk to if they choose.

Teachers and staff are also trained to refer kids if they see someone struggling.

"We look at attendance, we look at behavior referrals, even how many times a student is going to see the nurse," said Gianulis.

In addition, social and emotional well-being will be a part of the daily curriculum.

"Within every single classroom, there's at least 15 minutes a day spent just on social emotional learning," said Gianulis.

Videos letting families know about the changes have been circulating online.

Gianulis hopes this type of support becomes the norm, not just this year, but for good.

“We're firm believers in supporting the whole child," she said. 

Gianulis suggests parents also look for signs their child is struggling.

That may include a change in attitude, having trouble sleeping, or losing interest in doing things they used to enjoy.

She said parents can alert their child’s teacher, principal, or the front office if they’d like their child to speak with someone.

WATCH RELATED: College students suffering from mental health issues at a higher pace during pandemic (Oct. 2020)