Participants at the “Let’s Talk Student Health” town hall included, from left – front, LACES principal Kimberly Lesure, Brenda Wellington, Dawn Purnell, D’Ann Morris, (back) SCLC president Pastor William D. Smart, Kara Karibian, Nichole McMahon, Dorsey High School Alumni Association president Steve Bagby Sr., and MaryJane Puffer. (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

Moving to highlight the potential dangers to academic success, Dr. George J. McKenna III convened the “Let’s Talk Student Health” town hall meeting on March 9.   

The event, held at the L.A. Center for Enriched Studies, brought together teachers, parents and youth to discuss various factors that may contribute to a steep decline in a young person’s health and well-being. 

“A student’s academic success, absenteeism and behavior can be directly linked to health and wellness. Students in optimal health are more likely to attend school regularly and perform well socially and academically,” said McKenna, who is the LAUSD board member for District 1, which is comprised of 72,651 students in 126 traditional and charter schools. 

“With this town hall meeting, we want to spotlight student mental health and how parents, teachers and peers can support our children in living fulfilled lives. 

The agenda focused on the disturbing increase in the usage of e-cigarettes or vaping and youth suicide by students as well as the availability of wellness resources throughout the school district.  Three experts were on hand to outline recent trends and potential preventive measures. 

 Kara Karibian, director of programs for Breathe California of Los Angeles County, displayed the variety of vaping devices and shared that middle and high school student usage rose nationwide by 78 percent from “220,000 to 3 million,” she noted.  

To learn more about the health risks, Karibian encouraged attendees to sign up for Breathe California’s “Clearing the Air” anti-vaping workshop or interactive presentation, which summarizes the signs that a pre-teen or teenager is vaping, e-cigarettes access and the major health concerns resulting from usage. 

MaryJane Puffer represented the L.A. Trust, a nonprofit created to support students’ academic success by improving their health.  The organization has worked since 1991 to create 15 school-based wellness centers that provide free primary, mental and oral health services to youth and their families. 

In South L.A., wellness centers are located at Locke Early Education Center and Crenshaw, Fremont, Jefferson, Jordan Manual Arts and Washington Preparatory High Schools. The facilities focus on prevention, education, early intervention and screenings for students and family members. 

Nichole McMahon, a mental health specialist with the LAUSD Student Health and Human Services Division, covered suicide prevention awareness.  She educated the audience on the myths and facts surrounding suicide, the risk factors associated with student suicides and offered resources for parents and caregivers who may be concerned about their child. 

Recounting the relationship between mental health and suicide, McMahon emphasized that traumatic childhood experiences can negatively impact school development and achievement.  In addition, she distributed handouts listing the warning signs of suicide, actions to take when discovering someone is suicidal and contact information for the mental health clinics located on LAUSD campuses. 

The whole premise of putting mental illness and mental health in a more visible light just by talking about it or by being more vulnerable and accessible  - it will make a difference,” insisted McKenna. 

To learn more about LAUSD student health services, call the District 1 offices at (213) 241-6382 or (323) 298-3411.