As educators, elected officials and other civic leaders seek more data-driven solutions, they are discovering problematic corners in a complex portrait of youth wellbeing in Santa Monica.

Recent figures show that 40 percent of local 9th-grade students reported being harassed at school and that one-fourth of local middle and high school students don’t feel safe on their campuses.

In addition, half of the juniors who were surveyed said they used alcohol or drugs in the previous month and one-third of them reported having five or more drinks in a row at some point during that span.

Meanwhile, more than one-fourth of middle and high school students reported experiencing prolonged periods of extreme sadness, and 17 percent of high schoolers said they’ve had suicidal thoughts.

“Students today are exposed to many things and many are under stress,” said Sandra Lyon, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu school district. “It is clear that we need to provide more education about the effects of substance and alcohol use as well as information on healthy choices and lifestyles.”

Lyon and other officials say Santa Monica’s youth wellbeing report card highlights the need for improved wellness services, which is why local leaders have applied for a $100,000 grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation for an upgraded wellbeing facility at Santa Monica High School.

Public voting for the funding, which is part of this year’s LA2050 contest, ends Nov. 3 and is available online at http://bit.ly/1W1iquu.

The so-called Thrive Center is a project born of the Cradle to Career initiative, a collaboration between SMMUSD and the City of Santa Monica as well as parent groups, health agencies and other nonprofit organizations.

The wellness center fits into the Cradle to Career goals of improving mental health, expanding support services and preparing students for college and beyond.

“There are a lot of wellness centers in high schools throughout California, and Santa Monica should have something like that too,” said Natasha Kingscote, administrator of the city’s Community and Cultural Services Department. “It’s time for us to catch up.”

The LA2050 grant would build on the City of Santa Monica’s ongoing financial support of school-based services. Traditionally, Kingscote said, city grants support programs for children who are poor, uninsured or underserved.

“The report card is a reflection of all of our students, and so what we balance with Cradle to Career is making sure our most vulnerable kids get services but also having all-kid initiatives,” she said. “Even if they’re financially doing well or have insurance, they still face a variety of challenges.”

The grant would allow officials to expand mental health, stress management and substance abuse services and could potentially support other programming like peer mediation and mindfulness. Money could also make the wellness center more inviting to students.

“It will be more than a dingy office with a bowl of condoms, a nurse, and some DARE posters,” the project proposal reads.

Officials ultimately envision a student-led facility where teens feel comfortable being open about the issues they’re facing.

The grant would be “a revolutionary step toward effectively supporting student health and wellness,” Lyon said.

jeff@smdp.com

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