Enochs Care Center spreads its arms around all ills

A collaborative center at Enochs High School to help teens with the ills, aches and hard knocks of life has been recognized by a statewide organization.

The California School Boards Association has named the Enochs Care Center among the finalists for a Golden Bell Award. The decisions of the 24 judges will be announced next week, but placing in the highest group out of hundreds of entries is already a win.

For the record: Davis High’s Language Institute earned a Golden Bell in 2015. The Tuolumne County Office of Education’s Fit for the Future wellness program won a Golden Bell in 2014. Beyer High’s Engineering and Robotics Pathway got the golden nod in 2013.

The Enochs Care Center earned its place on this year’s list as a one-stop service for teens in pain, merging health and mental health services, Principal Deb Rowe told visitors from Beyer High last week. Davis and Beyer campuses are looking at how they could fit a care center into their campuses.

Traditionally, large campuses have a school nurse in one area and counselors in a cluster of rooms somewhere else. But at Enochs, registered nurse Penny Sensney noticed illness and anxiety or depression seemed to go together.

“You never have anxiety alone; you also have asthma or some other major illness going on with it,” Sensney said. It was a finding also seen in reverse by school psychologist Jodie Hofkamp-Echols, who found anxious or depressed students also had headaches, stomachaches and other issues.

Two years ago the health care side and the counseling side came together as one-stop spot for whatever ails students.

“The flexibility between our two offices now that we’ve merged has been wonderful, and such an added benefit in keeping kids in class, keeping their attendance rate up and keeping that longevity of, ‘I can be in school and I’m going to be OK,’ ” Sensney said.

The care center sees students referred by teachers who notice problems, anonymous tips from friends worried about a classmate’s risky behavior – even parents who call in with concerns. Issues range from easy-fix to deeply troubling.

“My heart breaks for the stories that I hear,” Rowe said.

Students can also walk in anytime, and spotting kids avoiding a test or basking in the attention becomes second nature, Sensney said, adding, “The care center will always be a work in progress.”

And its progress is reflected across the campus, said Assistant Principal Michael Shroyer, with attendance up and behavior problems down.

“Just overall school culture and climate (are) going up. Lots of positive things have come out and one of the big pieces we can point to is the Care Center,” he said.

Besides the everyday services dealing with cuts and scrapes, or lending an ear on a bad day, the center can bring in grief counselors, hospice, mental health clinicians and other community services as needed. Adult mentors connect with students through the center. A group of trained peer counselors, all juniors and seniors, also spend time each week working there.

“This is like the hub,” said Jennifer Johnson, who coordinates care center services. “It definitely is a partnership.”

All who work there learn to spot three red flags: suicidal thoughts, hurting oneself or harming others. Anytime those warning lights go off, everything stops and the center volunteer or worker calls for immediate intervention, Johnson said.

Such alerts happen at every high school, with five or six such cases a year being standard, administrators said. At Enochs, however, there were more than 100 such cases last year.

To Hofkamp-Echols, that does not mean her students have more severe problems. It means they feel more free to talk about them. “It’s a Pandora’s box. Once students know they have a place they can go to, where their needs will be addressed, they will come,” she said.

“It brings more students to the surface,” Shroyer said. “It points out how many students have nowhere to go.”

Beyer counselors and administrators said they want to start something similar, but have not figured out where they would put it.

Placement was a key factor, Rowe said: “I wanted it to be a part of the fabric of the school.” She eventually claimed a bank of offices near the cafeteria, across campus from the main office, as the Enochs Care Center.

Moving staff around or clearing storage space ruffles a lot of feathers, but Enochs staffers urged the Beyer crew to move forward with or without an ideal location.

“You don’t start with world peace,” Rowe said. “You just start.”

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin