KVHS providing relief for students at-risk

Photo by Jake Lee Green
Left to Right: KVHS Principal John Meyers, Alana Barraza, Veronica Kenison-Munoz, Coleen Benton, Bill Chase, Kevin Valentine, Jillian Brown, and Kern Valley Exchange Club President Pat Connell.

By Jake Lee Green
Kern Valley Sun

On November 21, the Kern River Valley Exchange Club welcomed Kern Valley High School principal John Meyers and his team of grief counselors to speak on their experiences and strategies in working with youth who are facing issues such as depression, drug use, trouble at home, and grief from loss. The panel of 6 counselors, who vary in their specified areas of experience, spoke on their expertise and introduced themselves by sharing intimate stories from the field.

Principal Meyers opened by saying that 18 to 24 months ago this team would not have been possible with the budget that was being given to the school at the time, however, in the last two years the state of California has been providing a great deal of money to the district. The district has been saying for a while now that the young adults who attend KVHS are in need of support for the myriad of issues that they face growing up in the valley.
There are 470 kids who attend KVHS. Roughly, 13 percent of those kids are involved in some form of specialized behavioral counsel. That is 60 kids who are dealing with a form of trauma which have required them to seek help from the school’s resources. The numbers are estimated to be higher due to the nature of these young adults wishing to keep their feelings in secrecy out of embarrassment.

The criteria for a student’s level of grief is broken into three tiers. Tier one is open to all students and is meant to be as a general space for students to find relief by speaking with one of the counselors. Tier two is often a small group intervention and is categorized for students who require more of a hands-on approach. This small group therapy could involve parents, teachers, and staff of the high school. Tier three is a more specific approach to handling severe cases of trauma in students. This would require a more direct one-on-one intervention.

Principal Meyers, without specifically identifying any students, made examples of the types of grief that students are facing. The stories he went on to share involved the death of family and friends, drugs, breakups, and even murder. Nonetheless, Principal Meyers spoke with passion and hope for the kids he serves daily. A passion his team of grief counselors have adopted as well.

Principal Meyers introduced each counselor with praise. Each of the counselors spoke about themselves and their histories; both academic and personal. Coleen Benton, the Kern Valley High School Mental Health Clinician, began providing services to Kern Valley High School students once a week as a temporary fill-in. She now resides in the Kern River Valley and is full time as a district employee. She began her education at California State University Sacramento and finished her Marriage and Family Therapy Master’s at California State University Bakersfield.

Jillian Brown began by introducing her primary goals. Goals which are focused on identifying behavioral and emotional concerns which reflect a student’s abilities to learn and interact. She identifies triggered behavior by looking into whether students are completing their work, are missing school, or are acting out in class. She is a former employee for College Community Services and received her education through the University of Phoenix and has been with the district for a year.

Kevin Valentine is a former teacher who worked with students with emotional disturbances for seven years until becoming a program specialist and has since moved on to being the school psychologist for the last two years. He is also a live behavior analyst and is in school for medical psychology at the moment. Valentine has been working to build his higher education for the last 12 years.

Bill Chase has been working in the valley for a good amount of time. He is a volunteer for the local search and rescue. He began working with young adults as an assistant coach for the Kern Valley High School football program. He had been doing that coaching gig for 12 years until he was offered a position as an interventionist through the district.

Veronica Kenison-Munoz is a school social worker at KVHS. She works with most of the general education students by making sure they have resources available to them and offers counsel. She earned her Master’s degree in social work at CSUB and is currently an Associate Clinical Social Worker and is working to complete her 3000 hours of supervised time to earn her license. She worked for Child Protective Services and has seen a great deal of cases of children at-risk.

Alana Barraza graduated from Kern Valley High School in 2003 and grew up in a troublesome childhood here in the valley. She admits her mother was a methamphetamine user which encouraged her to enter into the field she is currently in. She is also an interventionist and had moved back to the Kern River Valley 10 years after having left. She received a scholarship from the Kern Valley Exchange Club which helped to finance her education at the University of Phoenix where she is finishing her Master’s.

All of the counselors shared in the most important commentary of the day. What do they do to reach out when they have issues stemming from the work they dare involved with? Chase mentioned as a search and rescue volunteer he has seen a lot and he will often reach out to his colleagues for support. A sentiment that the rest of the counselors shared. It was incredible to hear that each member of this team has a special relationship with one another that keeps them tidy and mentally brave in facing some of the more grizzly incidents of childhood trauma.

The Kern River Valley is blessed to have these resources and counselors given the ratio of counsel to students. 470 students will now have better opportunities to receive resources and will have open lines of communication with staff.