The Washoe Promise:
How One School District’s Strategic Plan Enhances Student Well-being and Saves Lives
Pre-pandemic, many school districts acknowledged the pressing need for bolstering social and emotional support. The pandemic did more than exacerbate these challenges; it also imposed a collective trauma. From skyrocketing anxiety and absenteeism to alarming suicide rates, the need for enhanced mental health support continues in the current “recovery phase.”
Students in the Washoe County School District in Reno, NV, vocalized their need for increased support in this recovery phase, compelling the district to deepen its commitment to their well-being. With no standardized solution to lean on, Washoe emerges as an excellent model of commitment, adaptability, and strategic foresight. Their holistic approach goes beyond mere words; it's a Promise — an implication of tangible action. Every Washoe student will be seen, understood, and supported.
The Washoe Promise signifies a transformative shift. It's about knowing each child by name, recognizing that no student should be invisible. It's about meeting their needs by connecting them with the right resources. And it's also about amplifying their inherent strengths, guiding them towards a future they actively choose.
Washoe County School District
"We will know every student by name, strength, and need so they graduate prepared for the future they choose. And we will deliver on this promise in partnership with our families and community."
~The Washoe School District Promise
Understanding the Imperative for the Washoe Promise
Reintegrating Into a School Environment
Washoe families encountered considerable obstacles in getting their children to school, reaching a point where school staff had to physically assist in bringing students into the building. Behavioral issues among students surged, necessitating significant revisions to the district's behavioral practices. There was also a noticeable uptick in requests for special education services, in part due to anxiety-related conditions. The district faced the struggle of successfully reintegrating these students into the educational environment — which further complicated students' emotional well-being.
The consensus from student voices was clear: there was an unmet need for support and a persistent sense that it's not yet acceptable to openly address mental health challenges. Washoe County School District realized the imperative for a more comprehensive approach to support student mental health.
17% of students couldn't identify a trusted adult.
Washoe's suicide prevention screening of seventh-grade students revealed a concerning statistic: about 17 percent of these students couldn't identify a trusted adult within the school environment — a signal that the district's connections with students were falling short. Washoe’s Youth Mental Health Summit reinforced this sentiment, with students expressing that despite the investments and support efforts, the environment still lacked adequate measures to reduce mental health stigma.
"Our mission is to ensure students feel safe, engaged, and connected. Kids that feel a sense of belonging are better equipped to learn, and that's what we're here to do, right?”
Jilliss, Principal, Sky Ranch Middle School
The Washoe Promise
Fulfilling the Washoe Promise Within School Settings
In the pursuit of their overarching theme of safety and belonging, Washoe County School District's strategic plan embodies a commitment that permeates every facet of their educational approach. This commitment is not merely conceptual; it has inspired tangible actions like these within the school environment.
Teachers review anonymized seating charts from each classroom, identifying every student's name and marking personal connections or interactions they've had, such as knowing something personal about the student or having contacted their family. Through several rounds of this activity, they pinpoint students without marks, highlighting those who might require additional attention or support due to a lack of personal connections.
Teachers achieve a comprehensive understanding of every student's name through academic teaming, where core subject instructors collaborate regularly. Despite the common assumption that students requiring connections struggle with behavior, teachers have observed that reserved, high-achieving individuals often struggle in silence. Teaming allows teachers to quickly identify these students and intervene, preventing them from quietly slipping through the cracks.
School staff build strong connections with individual students by initiating 2-minute conversations over a 10-week period, focused on personal rapport, not academics or behavior. Staff rotate amongst students to ensure multiple connections per student, while counselors assess the effectiveness of this system to identify supportive adults for each student.
Building In-School Support Systems for Individual Needs
Advocacy by teachers
who can detect when a student is struggling. As the first line of defense, teachers have the opportunity to pull a student aside and say, “Hey, are you okay?”
include innovative approaches like calm-down spaces and individual rooms ("cubbies") with minimized sensory input to assist students facing anxiety-related challenges.
Customized learning spaces
accommodate varying student needs, ensuring they feel comfortable and supported. Some students come to the customized space all day; some attend only their core classes; and some spend what would be their elective time working in the customized space so they have a break.
Recognizing Strengths and Listening to Student Voices
Feedback channels include culture and climate surveys to gather feedback from students, families, and staff, prioritizing their voices in shaping policies and interventions.
Open lines of communication through family action committees ensure direct input on invested policies and foster a responsive system where every voice is heard and valued.
Community involvement via the Safe and Healthy Schools Commission — a dedicated volunteer group focused on enhancing student, staff, and family well-being — exemplifies the commitment to the broader community's involvement in student success.
"Our priority is clear: creating safe, inclusive learning spaces where every student feels they belong. Often, these crucial aspects — safety and belonging — take a back seat to academics. But here, we've flipped the script. Safety and belonging come first, because without them, academic success is harder to achieve."
Chief Student and Family Supports Officer
Extending Washoe's Commitment Beyond School Walls
Washoe County School District acknowledges the pivotal role played by external resources in fulfilling its commitment to student well-being. From crisis counseling to family engagement initiatives, the district leverages an array of support services and partnerships tailored to meet diverse student needs, including a partnership with Care Solace.
Care Solace fills a vital gap by streamlining the process of connecting families with community mental health resources. By offering a comprehensive registry of available resources and facilitating care coordination, Care Solace complements the district's efforts by:
Supporting students, alleviating counselor burden.
By assisting families in crisis, Care Solace allows counselors to concentrate on their primary roles.
Serving as a community-driven investment.
Washoe’s choice of Care Solace reflects a collective dedication to providing mental health resources to students, their families, and school staff.
Enhancing equitable access.
Care Solace efficiently connects families to mental health resources, regardless of insurance type, bridging a vital gap in the system. By offering a comprehensive directory of available and culturally relevant mental health resources, families have a variety of options.
Providing peace of mind.
By bolstering current support systems, Care Solace acts as an extra resource for students, families, and educators during urgent or crisis situations. In addition, Care Solace maintains a record of the individual's care path, visible and traceable by the relevant district staff members, offering a sense of reassurance and calm.
Catalyzing quick access to care.
Due to its extensive database of mental health providers, Care Solace expedites access to mental health resources, aiming to prevent crises and shorten waiting times. Dedicated Care Companions are available 24/7/365 to provide prompt referrals and make appointments quickly on behalf of the individual in need.
"Care Solace offers a sense of relief, knowing there's support accessible, even when we aren't directly available. It doesn't necessarily make our job easier, but it does provide us with more peace of mind."
Empower Your School Community with Care Solace: Enhancing Student Well-being Together
In the pursuit of fostering an environment where every student feels seen, valued, and supported, Washoe County School District's commitment stands as a testament to the transformative power of dedicated initiatives. From knowing each student by name, strength, and need to implementing comprehensive support systems within and beyond school walls, the district exemplifies a holistic approach to student well-being.
Discover how Care Solace complements these efforts, offering a seamless pathway to mental health resources. Together, let's create a future where every student thrives. Learn more about how Care Solace can bolster your commitment to student well-being.