Woodland Hills furthers mentorship program focus through SEEKS funds

Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 10/18/2023

A w and a h logom representing Woodland Hills


Dr. Pamela White, the Woodland Hills School District’s Director of Administrative Services, said the district has long focused on providing its students with a comprehensive support system.


Over the years, that has meant thinking outside of the box, partnering with a number of outside providers to support its students with mentorship, and helping ease pressure off of teachers and staff along the way.


With the help of Project SEEKS SES, a partnership between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) that addresses trauma, behavior and mental health issues in ten school districts, Woodland Hills will take its support system to another level this school year.


Project SEEKS SES will be funding five mentorship programs — three of which the district partnered with last school year, and two new ones.


“We’ve always had a large focus on providing these supports, but it’s just a matter of finding the funding for it,” Dr. White said. “It does help bridge the gap in some capacity. It definitely does take the load off the teacher, and also the students are able to have an advocate.”


The five mentorship programs include One Nation, Project Gain, Men of Valor, Three Rivers Youth and HOOP. One Nation, particularly, is a highly requested program, Dr. White said. One Nation will have a special focus on helping students avoid conflict, particularly with other students. They will also help build relationships between the students and their teachers. Last school year the program made an immense impact, tracking over 800 contacts with students from November to the end of the school year.


“What’s amazing about them is that for the price that they charge, they’re in the school daily meeting with the students, putting out fires, providing mentorship to them daily,” Dr. White said. “They are probably one of the most requested programs to come back. It’s a great situation to be able to fund them.”


Dr. White said One Nation will be in the school building daily, implementing a curriculum along the way that focuses on character coaching, academic support and avocation. Project Gain’s focus will work hand in hand with One Nation. Project Gain, too, looks to help bridge the gap between students and teachers. Additionally, they help students with goal setting, weekend backpacks and much more.


“They’re honestly a tremendous program. They do a lot with helping students understand their emotions and helping teachers understand students’ characteristics and helping to build that relationship,” Dr. White said. “It’s just a very hands-on program, and sometimes they are that bridge between a family and the school.”


Rounding out the group of three returning mentorship programs is Men of Valor, which focuses on mentoring students at the secondary education level. The program helps guide male students who might be struggling academically or socially. Their impact goes outside of school time. Last year, for example, Men of Valor ran a basketball clinic and took students on a college tour.


“It was nice to get them out of the area that they live in and give them hope for something else,” Dr. White said.“It gives them hope and provides them with the opportunity to see life beyond what they usually see.”


New to the group of mentorship programs are Three Rivers Youth and HOOP. Three Rivers Youth will be running a diversion program, providing the district with a staff member in the middle school and high school who supports students with drug and alcohol counseling and mental health support. With the consent of a parent, Three Rivers Youth will work with a student who might be at risk of alternative education, a long-term suspension or a police citation.


“It helps with avoiding the school to prison pipeline,” Dr. White said. “We’re excited to give the students the support they need without sending them to alternative education.”


Finally, HOOP is a local, community-based organization that helps students deal with grief and trauma. The organization will work directly with students, helping them process their feelings, while also making the school aware of important dates or events that might be triggering a student’s change in behavior.


“It’s just really acknowledging the fact that our students are experiencing grief, and it’s going to help build the connection between the school and the community, because oftentimes we might not know when a student experiences some trauma,” Dr. White said. 


“Our community has experienced so much trauma. And because there’s generational trauma, it’s important to connect students with people that can relate to them, understand them and can also provide them with the support they need.”


In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. White said there’s been an increased need for the support that all five programs are providing. The hope, she said, is to not only mitigate issues that students might be facing in the short-term, but help them thrive after they leave the district.


“There’s so much research out there these days that if a student has a relationship with an adult in school, they are more likely to graduate and succeed,” Dr. White said. 


“I think folks are starting to slowly realize the importance of mental health, and I think if we can build them up with support and services, our hope is that they can eventually become adults who are whole and well. The more support they have, the better off they’ll be as an adult.”