As part of California High School’s “Cal Cares” Wellness Program, personalized gift bags reached the homes of 55 students during a distribution event that took place March 17-19, aimed at connecting Cal High administrators and counselors with students who have experienced social-emotional distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The personalized gift bags – which contain snacks, stress balls, school supplies, resource guides and positive messaging – have been distributed throughout the year to 175 Cal High students, providing comfort to students who have lost loved ones, are experiencing anxiety or just to need to hear a kind word.
California High School Assistant Principal Shana Jones and Counselor Rosanne Atilano began the program to amplify the school’s mental-wellness efforts and continue building strong connections with students despite remote learning.
“This year has posed numerous challenges for students and educators alike,” Jones said. “As educators we are so used to being able to check in on our kids and see if they are struggling emotionally or need someone to talk to. The Cal Cares bags are a reminder to students that we are thinking of them and are invested in their social-emotional well-being.”
Cal Cares is the result of a brainstorming session, where Cal High administrators discussed enhancing their outreach efforts so that students could reach them easily if they needed assistance. Counselors consulted with teachers on what supplies should go in the bags and a list of student recipients was created. The Whittier Union transportation department was enlisted to help distribute the bags.
“The Cal Cares bags have been very well received by the students,” Atilano said. “During our first distribution the kids were thrilled, excitedly holding their bags. It was just that little something that they needed. Our second distribution was around Christmas, and it was a huge help for many of our struggling families.”
With extra Cal Cares bags available around the holidays, one counselor made a special delivery to one Whittier Union family, giving one bag to each child in the home. Later, the family’s mother contacted Atilano to express her deep appreciation for the gift bags. During a difficult holiday season with nothing under the tree, the Cal Cares bags provided the children of the family their only Christmas presents.
“The mother was very grateful. I’m so happy that we could support the family in this way,” Atilano said. “When you begin an outreach program like this, you don’t realize how much it means to those who receive it.”
The Cal Cares program is just one way the school has reached out to students during distance learning. The Cal High art department created kits with art supplies for students to be able to work on assignments at home, and a wood shop teacher who received a donation of 20,000 popsicle sticks from a Midwest company distributed them among his students so they could work at home.
Cal High’s Interact Club has created their own gift bags and arranged for a campus drive-through so students can pick them up. Interact members have also volunteered to be afterschool tutors. Cal Cares has been so successful that other Whittier Union schools have started their own outreach programs, with counselors sharing ideas and tips on what would best serve their students.
“Cal Cares has brought the school together during tough times, providing struggling students with a lifeline of support,” Cal High Principal Bill Schloss said. “We have such an amazing team at Cal. Shana Jones and Rosanne Atilano have led the effort, and their compassion and dedication has been an inspiration to faculty, staff and students alike. Thank you to all who have contributed to Cal Cares.”
032421_WUHSD_CALCARES1: A California High School family is surprised with personalized gift bags during a Cal Cares distribution event that took place March 17-19.