Blog | September 17, 2021

Council for a Strong America Gathers California Leaders to Discuss Student Wellness

New report highlighting how new school-based investments in student health can help strengthen California is the topic for panelists.

Council for a Strong America’s California office gathered leaders from across the state to discuss the importance of school-based investments in student health, including: Assemblymember Marc Berman, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton, Executive Director and President of Attendance Works, Hedy Chang, CEO and President of the East Bay Leadership Council, Kristin Connelly and Interim CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, Cassandra Little. The discussion was moderated by Senior Report for EdSource, Carolyn Jones.

Carolyn Jones opened the discussion with an overview of some of the challenges in addressing students’ mental and physical health needs - “When students don’t feel well emotionally, they’re less likely to be engaged in school, and less likely to live up to their full potential. Many of these issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic, with certain groups of students—especially those who are low-income or of color—disproportionately impacted.”

Council for a Strong America’s Associate Director of Research, Amber Moorer provided a synopsis of the report’s findings, stating that, “what the research makes clear is that student learning and success depends on more than academics alone. We have to support each child’s physical, mental and emotional health and development.” Policy recommendations include: supporting student needs through full-service community schools, addressing physical health on campus, and supporting afterschool programs.

Hedy Chang, President and Executive Director of Attendance Works discussed how remote learning and the transition to in-person school has impacted student attendance in California. “What we know is that kids come to school when they have positive conditions for learning. When kids feel emotionally, physically healthy and safe. When kids feel a sense of belonging, connection and support.” According to Chang, the most recent data for student attendance is alarming and leaders must find ways to amass the support that will ensure kids have an opportunity to learn.

Cassandra Little, Interim CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce spoke about the importance of healthy children and youth for a thriving community, “At the chamber we envision an open and thriving market without socio-economic or political barriers…it’s not rocket science to realize that the issues our young students face today are the issues of our [future] workforce.”

Kristin Connelly, President and CEO of the East Bay Leadership Council affirmed the critical connection between the wellbeing of today’s youth and the workforce of tomorrow: “Setting aside the moral imperative that we need to take care of our kids and do right by them, it’s bad for business…we need to do better to train kids everywhere in California, regardless of the zipcode of their school so that they have a chance to succeed.”

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton offered insights on this issue from the perspective of the criminal justice system by connecting untreated mental health issues in youth with acts of violence. “As part of a safe community, we want our youth to learn, to be whole, and to be successful…when it comes to juvenile justice, prevention and intervention are of extremely high importance…Access to mental health services for our youth should and must be prioritized.”

Finally, Assemblymember Marc Berman discussed the importance of investing in youth mental health at the state level and summarized the historic investments in mental health in the 2021-22 California state budget. “Youth mental health has been a top priority for me during my time in the legislature…This year’s budget contains major investments in student mental health…and I’m really proud to have championed these issues and grateful it’s getting the attention it deserves.”

View the full event video below:


  1. California