Kaiser hopes to improve childhood mental health across 25,000 US schools: SVP Dr. Bechara Choucair explains new partnership

Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente is seeking to address trauma and stress in schools through a new partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Discovery Education.

Together, the three entities aim to tackle those issues and promote social emotional wellness as part of a Resilience in School Environments, or RISE, initiative.

They said the initiative will provide resources for school staff, teachers and districts to support student mental health and to better address their own social and emotional wellness needs. Their goal is to eventually reach 25,000 U.S. schools.

Here, Bechara Choucair, MD, senior vice president and chief community health officer for Kaiser, discusses the reasons for the partnership and its goals.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What prompted the partnership?

Dr. Bechara Choucair: To help us scale this vision for RISE, we need the right partners to help bring this initiative to as many schools as we can more quickly. Kaiser Permanente specifically sought out leaders in the field who could help us create the best quality materials and intervention and reach the most schools nationally.

Through the consultation and backing of Kaiser Permanente and the educational resources, training and tools of Healthier Generation and other key partners, RISE is positioned to build resilience in the school communities it serves, leading to reduced educator burnout and foster the development of confident, happy kids who excel socially, emotionally and academically. RISE is unique in its focus on teachers and school staff to address their specific social and emotional wellness needs.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has extensive experience developing and implementing child health-focused best practice frameworks and processes in school settings. And Discovery Education is a global leader in standards-based digital content with the largest professional learning community of its kind. Together with our partners, we believe that RISE can help make a school a healthier, more resilient environment for everyone on a national scale.

Q: What will the partnership look like? What will Kaiser's role be? 

BC: RISE was developed as part of Kaiser Permanente's Thriving Schools initiative, our all-in engagement to improve health for students, staff and teachers. As the lead partner for RISE, Kaiser Permanente provides resources and consultation for the initiative. Together with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, we developed the RISE Index, an online school and district assessment tool with detailed questions encompassing five broad areas, to plan and support social and emotional health policies and practices. The RISE Index leverages an online Healthier Generation Action Center and learning platform with content tailored for teachers such as understanding, identifying and addressing ACEs [adverse childhood experiences] and self-care.

We will partner with Discovery Education to build and broadcast learning modules and resources for schoolteachers and staff professional development into their existing digital educational offering that will be available at no cost to all schools nationwide. The virtual learning platform will include development modules to help educators become more trauma informed, inspire them to engage in wellness, and build a community of advocates. The learning modules are in development currently with expert input from Kaiser Permanente and other national leaders in trauma informed schools and are expected to launch later next year.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation delivers both on-site and virtual programming for RISE. All these schools, regardless of support model, engage with and access RISE through The Action Center by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the one-stop-shop for all things RISE — including the RISE Index assessment tool, resources, virtual learning curricula and more.

Q: What specific resources will schools receive?

BC: Districts or individual schools begin with the RISE Index — an assessment tool that provides a measurable, actionable framework and removes the guesswork out of social and emotional planning. It also looks at the environment from a whole-school perspective, so that action plans are more effective and sustainable. The action plan is custom-made for a district's or school's unique needs. Support can come in the form of on-site partners, or virtual resources that help implement and deliver results.

Both on-site and virtual support can be accessed via the Healthier Generation Action Center, which includes the RISE Index, customized tools and e-learning resources. Healthier Generation's team of virtual and onsite program and content managers support and guide schools through these processes.

And via Discovery Education's digital platform, teachers and staff can access learning and video modules to help improve their wellbeing as part of a professional development curriculum.

Q: When and where will the initiative start? 

BC: The RISE Index is currently being used by 600 schools across 37 states in the first few weeks of availability.

RISE is targeting more than 200 on-site schools across our seven regions in the initial launch this year and will be reaching hundreds more virtually. This expansion is possible due to our partnerships with Discovery Education and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Q: What is the overall goal with the initiative? 

BC: RISE helps create healthier schools. We believe that schools are a building block for our communities and that there is a strong connection between health and education. Our overall goal with RISE is to support students and school employees so they feel good when they're at school, they know how to access the help and resources they need, and the right policies and practices are in place for everyone to succeed. This is not about just adding mental health resources, it is about changing the school environment itself.

Q: What are the next steps with the initiative? 

BC: We hope to bring RISE to as many students as possible long term. As with any evidence-informed initiative, we will aim to gather data as RISE is implemented in schools and districts nationwide and reassess our goals and strategies accordingly.

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