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From Rocklin HS to the Capitol: An advocate for student wellness

By: Kathryn Palmer Of The Lincoln News Messenger
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At first, he struggled to understand why students were failing. Shortly after beginning as a high school counselor in Rocklin, Marlon Morgan noticed that 35 to 50 students at each of his district’s high schools had all F’s. But when he looked at their California standards test results, many had proficient or advanced scores. This begged the question, Morgan said, of “what is going on?”

 

“Upon more research and upon talking with them, it started to become apparent that these were students that had more barriers outside of school than in the classroom,” said Morgan, a Roseville-native and Rocklin High School graduate. Morgan told this story Tuesday to a crowd of more than 1,000 gathered for the California Student Mental Wellness Conference in Sacramento. He is founder and executive director of the Sacramento-based nonprofit Wellness Together, an organization that provides mental health services on school campuses statewide. In partnership with the California Department of Education, Wellness Together hosts the California Student Mental Wellness Conference, now in its third year.

 

Morgan told Tuesday’s audience that the struggling students either had a mental health issue not being addressed or their basic needs were not being met. He and his colleagues began referring the students to community mental health providers in the Roseville and Rocklin area. But those providers often had limited availability, Morgan said, and the youth who didn’t have adults advocating for them failed to get the help they needed.

 

“As a school counselor in both Rocklin and Roseville school districts, I saw a huge need,” Morgan said.

Out of this recognized need, Morgan created Wellness Together, which works to connect clinicians and mental health professionals with schools throughout the state. One of the first to team up with Wellness Together was Rocklin Unified School District, where Morgan began his career as a credentialed school counselor.

 

“I’ve heard from teachers and parents that these services provided in schools are remarkable, if not life-changing,” said Rocklin Unified School District Superintendent Roger Stock. The now five-year-old partnership with Wellness Together has provided the district with therapists for each of its three high schools, Stock said.

The services Wellness Together provides range from helping students manage anxiety and teaching them about positive peer-to-peer interactions to educating staff and parents about mental health, according to Stock. Morgan said his organization offers therapy services throughout the Rocklin District, has a therapist in each school in Western Placer Unified School District, and also serves Auburn Union Elementary School District.

 

One in five children aged 13 to 18 have, or will have a serious mental illness and 50 percent of all lifetime cases begin before age 14, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A 2015 survey by the National Institute of Mental Health found less than half of adolescents with a psychiatric disorder received treatment over the previous year. “There’s really never been a time like this before and I would argue that there’s never been a time more important for student mental health,” Morgan said at the conference Tuesday. “We’ve been seeing over the last 10 years our students getting less sleep and spending more time on screens, and this is leading to solitary and sedentary lifestyles that really aren’t good for mental health.”

 

After completing high school in Rocklin, Morgan received his bachelor’s degree at Sacramento State University and later attended Chapman University in Southern California for his master’s degree. Morgan said he was drawn back to South Placer to be near his family and to take advantage of living so close to the state’s capital. “He is a proud graduate of our district and we are very proud of him as an alumni and as someone who has chosen to give back,” Rocklin Unified School District Superintendent Stock said.

 

Morgan has received special recognition from the U.S. Congress, California State Senate and the California State Assembly for his policy recommendations to promote student mental health and wellness. His organization’s next steps are to work to provide services in even more school districts throughout the state. Morgan said he and his team are currently working to bring Wellness Together therapists to San Diego schools.

 

Stock said he receives inquiries from educators and leaders across the state wanting to know more about Rocklin schools’ partnership with Wellness Together. “We want to invest in the whole child,” Stock said. “Academic performance is very important but so is mental health and well-being.”