Photo courtesy of the CARE Center.
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Last month, rumors at Long Beach Polytechnic High School that its Counseling Assistance Resources and Education (CARE) Center would close were quickly dashed when officials announced it will instead be expanded after backlash from students and faculty.
The impact the CARE Center has on students is immense, said Michael Gray, the currently on-site counselor, which is why it received so many objections when rumors of it closing in the fall of 2018 surfaced.
“[The] administration is not recommending funding the CARE Center counselor out of the LCFF [Local Control Funding Formula] money at this time because the PAAL [Poly Academy Of Achievers and Leaders] campus has some of our most at-risk students, and they need support,” said Principal Quentin Brown at the school site council on January 30, 2018.
The motion was passed unanimously. The confirmation that the CARE Center would be shut down caused students and staff alike to protest.
“It’s really ignorant to close the CARE Center because then there would be a lot of students with mental health issues without anyone to talk to going around campus feeling unheard,” said junior Tywanna Moseley. “I feel like if there is no CARE Center then kids become unstable.”
According to a National Institute of Mental Health survey, about 20 percent of U.S. youth during their lifetime are affected by some type of mental disorder to an extent that they have difficulty functioning.
Since 1998, the CARE Center has offered students a safe space and counseling between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. for a range of problems such as suicidal thoughts, abuse, neglect, anxiety and depression. Students can also collectively come together there to solve problems or just to talk.
“The CARE Center is the one place where us high school kids can feel safe and heard and loved,” said junior Eileen Garcia. “It’s a place anyone can get help or advice with anything they’re dealing with, whether it’s a tough situation or just having a rough time.”
Originally, the CARE Center started with former counselor Paul Gonzalez from Franklin Middle School. When he retired, he asked Gray, who helped launch the CARE Center, to step in. Gray has been running it for the past two years.
He takes time to visit classes and inform students about mental health and the effects it has if it goes untreated. He said he tries to help students be the best they can be.
“There are too many kids who have emotional and mental health issues that aren’t being treated for whatever reason,” said school nurse Michelle Sellers. “Kids often come home and they don’t have the support, so the school is where they get some support.”
Sellers said that the school has other counselors, but they’re more focused on academics, making the CARE Center the only resource entirely devoted to students’ mental health.
“When Mr. Gray is not there, the responsibility trickles down to the [academic] counselors, teachers and to my office because they don’t have a support system in place,” Sellers adds.
She does not always have the privacy or time to talk to students and believes they need more supportive staff — who are often aware of their problems — to get to know them personally. Without the CARE Center, the teachers and staff would have to be more diligent and step up to the plate to offer the same support that the CARE Center does, she said.
“The CARE Center has helped thousands of students,” Gray said. “How much value do you put on a life? You can’t really put a dollar amount on the lives that are saved.”
He explained that the Long Beach Unified School District is running with less students each year, which means it has to review the budget and decide what can be cut. This year, the district cut counselors all over the district, affecting high school, middle school and elementary school counselors.
Although the CARE Center closing was supposedly set in stone, teachers, staff, parents, alumni and students signing petitions, writing letters, starting fundraisers and other forms of protest, managed to keep the CARE Center open another year.
“That activism and that passion — and basically by being upset — forced everyone to reconsider,” Gray said.
The CARE Center will also expand to include classes dedicated to mental health, peer counseling, social work and activism. Another teacher at Poly, Gayle Mashburn, who was also against the CARE Center closing, plans on turning a class the school already offers into a format that makes it a “G” college-prep elective course.
Gray expressed his gratitude towards everyone who helped him to keep the CARE Center open. He said that this is a prime example of what people can achieve if they all strongly and actively disagree with something that they feel like is an injustice.