Students at Palos Verdes Peninsula schools are starting to get mental health help and more South Bay schools may be next.
Counseling And Support Services for Youth, better known as CASSY, has been serving K-12 students in the San Francisco area since 2009 by placing licensed therapists in schools. Now, its founder Liz Schoeban is starting CASSY Southern California at Peninsula schools and wants to expand to serve more in the South Bay.
“The concept was proven and it worked,” Schoeban said.
A mental health crisis has been hitting schools in recent years and Palos Verdes High School Principal Charles Park says his campus isn’t an exception. In the six years since he started at PVHS, he’s noticed an increase in depression and mental health issues among students. And when he meets with colleagues from other school districts in the South Bay, it’s a hot topic with them too.
“Our kids are growing up in an era with social media, academic pressures and social pressures of not only maintaining a physical image, but also a digital image,” Park said. “And it causes a challenge in a high schooler’s life when they’re trying to identify themselves.”
Looking for a solution to the problem earlier this year, Park and other representatives from the district attended the Mental Health Conference in Sacramento. They met Schoeban, who was presenting at the conference with CASSY and asked for her help. When she found there was no similar program in the area, Schoeban decided to start CASSY Southern California.
Now, PVHS has a full-time therapist who manages their wellness center, sees students and works with them one-on-one for free. Palos Verdes Peninsula High School also has their own therapist and the 10 PVPUSD elementary schools have two therapists to share.
Schoeban started the organization after working as a counselor in schools and saw that many schools had graduate students in therapist roles, but they didn’t necessarily have the experience needed for the job or the time to build relationships with the children.
“(I started CASSY) at a time when schools were starting to realize that they needed more experienced therapists on their campuses,” she said.
The organization is run much like a business, which is what makes it so sustainable, Schoeban said. The schools pay fees to CASSY for the therapists, but the services are free to students and don’t require insurance.
With counselors in schools, there are also fewer barriers to entry, she said. Families don’t have to deal with finding a therapist, insurance restrictions or even driving the child to their appointments. There’s also the stigma — just getting a child or teenager to want to go to a counselor can be its own challenge.
“Kids can come to see us right after algebra,” Schoeban said. “…The stigma goes away. Like the kids might see their guidance counselor, they can go to the CASSY office.”
Schoeban said that CASSY in Northern California serves schools in Palo Alto with a similar demographic as Peninsula schools, but they also serve many schools with a majority of students from low-income families.
She wants to expand the southern California organization to serve more schools in the South Bay, especially underserved schools. While school fees cover about 80 percent of the costs to run CASSY, Schoeban said they need donors to help with the difference and expanding the program to more schools.
As for Peninsula schools, Park says that CASSY will stay for as long as they can sustain the program and keep it a part of his school.