Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente on Thursday expanded its multi-year effort to provide tens of thousands of schools across the country with resources to help students and staff members cope with trauma and stress.
The Resilience in School Environments, or RISE, project, will reach at least 25,000 schools by 2023, Kaiser said, as it provides mental health and wellness support to staff and students.
The initiative began in 2017 to educate teachers from under-resourced public schools on ways to cope with stress and other mental health challenges they may face in the classroom. It started in select K-12 schools in California, Colorado and Georgia.
Now, RISE will expand nationwide with on-site personnel providing support to 200 schools in the first year and increasing to 1,000 in the second year, according to Dr. Bechara Choucair, Kaiser's chief community health officer. Additional support will come through virtual offerings.
"Schools are a building block with our communities and there is a very strong connection between health and education," Choucair said. "Supporting students' mental health will allow them to learn better, and we know that students and teachers are more stressed out in school spaces these days."
Schools will have free access to the program's online resource index, a digital tool that will provide best practices to help schools and districts to make policy and practice changes.
Despite the project's massive size, Choucair said it will offer a tailored approach to schools based on their individual needs. Schools can complete an online assessment on five different categories including school staff well-being and universal prevention strategies to address stress and trauma.
"It's really a very targeted approach that takes the guess out of this work and really gives a very specific, actionable framework to allow you to improve social and emotional planning," Choucair said.
Laurie Stradley, chief program officer at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a not-for-profit organization that is partnering with Kaiser on the project, said the initiative was a natural evolution of the collaborative work the two groups has done since 2013 to focus on all aspects of the health of children.
"We really come to this with the belief that the systems, policies, practices and people around our children are the most influential parts of their lives," Stradley said. "When we can change systems and environments to improve health outcomes that's the approach we tend to take."
A February survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found an increasing number of young people are reporting experiencing anxiety and depression, with 70% of teens saying it was a "major problem" among they saw among their peers.
Past research has found adverse childhood events, or ACEs, were a leading indicator for an increased risk of earlier death. A 1998 study released by Kaiser and the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention found children who have four or more ACEs were 12 times more likely to attempt suicide, and those with six or more had a 20-year shorter life expectancy.
In October, Kaiser announced it was investing $2.75 million in new research to help prevent and mitigate the health effects of ACEs. Choucair said the RISE initiative was an extension of those efforts, with plans to track, evaluate and publish the results of the project.
"When you think about the scale of this effort, we want to make sure that we're tracking the impact that we're making," Choucair said. "We want to make sure that we're moving the needle on these very important issues."