Mental health program at Alhambra Unified helps students reach for success
“I am thankful because you have not given up on me. I am thankful that you still have a sense of hope for me, because not many people do,” says a letter from a student written to Dr. Laurel Bear.
Bear has worked at Alhambra Unified School District for more than 32 years, starting as a teacher at San Gabriel High School and moving on to dean of students at Alhambra High School, principal of Century High School, and now director of Gateway to Success, a mental health and student safety program at AUSD.
Bear shared with Alhambra Source her personal connection to the city, how the program is working to prevent a tragedy like Sandy Hook, and the primary issues impacting local youth today.
What type of impact have you had in Alhambra?
Gateway to Success consists of leadership from the police department, the school district, community agencies, and higher-education partners. Over the past eight years, our data has been incredible and speaks directly to the success of the Gateway Program. AUSD suspensions have declined over 83 percent and the expulsion rates have also declined over 78 percent.
How did Gateway to Success get its name?
We asked our community about eight years ago, “What do you want for your children?” The response was overwhelming. Despite the responders’ education, language barriers, or amount of time in Alhambra or the country, all adults wanted their children to be “successful.” So there came the name.
What is your role within the program?
I co-authored all of the five federal grants as well as the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative grant. I also supervise as the program director for the Alhambra Unified School District.
What does it mean to you to help Alhambra students?
I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. My father, Dr. Marshall Spector, was a pediatrician for over 40 years with the Alhambra Medical Clinic, so helping children in Alhambra is part of who I am.
Below is part of a letter representing what our students have to share. I believe this says it all.
This, Dr. Bear, is not only a apology letter, but a thank you one as well. I have put you through numerous amounts of meetings and struggles. But all in all, you still push for me to do great. I am absolutely puzzled of why you do, but appreciate it very much. And for that I would like to tell you why I’m thankful to you and Gateway.
I am thankful because you have not given up on me. I am thankful that you still have a sense of hope for me, because not many people do. I am thankful that you work with me, and help me, and do what is best FOR me. I’m thankful for the time and meetings you dedicated too me, and the inconvenience that I made you go through. But above all, I am thankful, that you are still by my side, through out all the disrespect I have done, and can guarantee that no further disrespect will continue.
Do you involve parents in the program?
I provide training and seminars for parents to not only become involved in their child’s education, but also [learn about] parenting strong-willed children and topics such as internet safety, drug, and alcohol use, to name just a few.
What changes have you made to the program to make it more effective?
We have increased the number of universities who participate in the Gateway Program. Currently we have 109 interns servicing our students from eight university programs, in the fields of clinical psychology, social work, and forensic psychology, as well as marriage and family counseling.
Additionally, Gateway to Success has two offices at the Alhambra Police Department servicing Alhambra students and their families four late afternoons and evenings a week.
What are the most prevalent challenges and issues for which students are referred to Gateway to Success?
Below is the data based on the causes of referrals for 2011-2012.
How is this program working to prevent tragedies such as the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary?
Last summer we held a simulated, school-police training with an active shooter scenario. We recruited students to be part of the training. We focused on the police department, psychological first aid, and how to respond to a critical incident on a campus. Frightening how close this simulated training was to the tragedy in Connecticut.
Additionally, we conduct annual school safety walk-throughs with our local police and fire departments. All jurisdictions have up-to-date maps of the school, contact information, and participate in monthly APD-AUSD partnership meetings through Gateway. It is the best of the best partnership. In fact many surrounding school districts and police departments meet with our two jurisdictions to see how they can improve their local jurisdiction relationships.
What would you like to see being done or accomplished within the program? What are your goals or future plans for Gateway to Success?
Gateway to Success has accomplished so much over the years, well beyond what I even conceptualized eight years ago when I wrote my first grant. We have received such recognition both locally and nationally.
However, even with all that, I have to wish that this program will continue to be available to all students and their families. The beauty of this program is that we never turn away any student, regardless of insurance. We grow, sustain, and train other communities and school districts to keep our children safe, emotionally sound, and stable.
Gateway to Success will be hosting a parent workshop titled "Managing Feelings" on February 7 from 6-8 p.m. at Alhambra High School. Parents will hear guest speaker Ross Szabo discuss challenges in supporting teenage students and their emotions regarding family, friends, relationships, and schoolwork. Click here for more information.
Interview was edited and condensed.