Healthy Schools Program Director Kristine Coblentz
Last week Kristine Coblentz joined Los Alamos Public Schools as director of the new Healthy Schools Program.
The position was created as a result of the work of LAPS’ Mental Health Task Force and the Schools Board’s Strategic Plan, which prioritizes student and staff well-being as one of its eight focus areas. Coblentz reports to LAPS Superintendent, Dr. Kurt Steinhaus.
Coblentz will be working closely with a team that includes school clinical psychologist Dr. Christine Hazard, Prevention Coordinator Bernadette Lauritzen and Angelica Roybal, the new elementary guidance counselor secretary. This core team will be coordinating with counselors, principals, and teachers from each school in the district to provide support and resources. For example, as school counselors implement the ASCA (American School Counselor Association) Model of service delivery, a comprehensive school counseling program designed to enhance the academic, career and social/emotional development of every student.
“We intend to assist the counseling team as they work toward the goals they have set for this new district-wide model,” Coblentz said.
What areas need to be improved in our district?
Surveys conducted by the Mental Health Task Force and data gathered in the New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Surveys of Los Alamos High School show that the students in our district experience high levels of anxiety, depression, stress, suicidal ideation, bullying, and sexual dating violence. As the Healthy Schools Initiative team develops a comprehensive plan, they will be focusing on those problem areas and working to increase resources, evidence-based programs, and community awareness.
It can, however, be tempting to only focus on the problems, but Coblentz encourages community members to acknowledge and build upon our strengths.
“We also need to emphasize the numbers of kids who have found a niche, who are thriving, and who aren’t making unhealthy choices. Rates of underage drinking are down. I want to celebrate the fact that 74 percent of our students report that they are choosing not to drink alcohol,” Coblentz said. “I’d love to see a cultural-norm shift. I’d love for students to say, ‘I think I’ll stay clean and sober through high school.’ I’m really excited about looking at the research on cultural-norm shifting to see how we make it cool to be clean. Clean living, healthy eating, being active, and appropriate risk-taking.”
Coblentz will have weekly meetings with Dr. Steinhaus and Dr. Hazard to discuss goals and measure progress.
“This position has a big scope of work,” Coblentz said. “We are in the process of setting tangible, measurable goals while always keeping the larger vision in sight.”
Coblentz has extensive experience working with children, youth and families. She has lived in Los Alamos for 12 years and has been involved in community efforts to support families through her work with the First Born Program, JJAB and The Family YMCA’s Teen Center. She has spent time volunteering for Self Help, Family Strengths Network, Los Alamos Public Schools, Community Health Council, Los Alamos Cooperative Market, and PEEC.
As a contractor for JJAB, she piloted the Youth Resource Advocate position with the idea that parents and kids were going through the juvenile justice system—or the mental health system or the school system—without someone to help them navigate the process and tie all the pieces together. The Youth Resource Advocate provides wraparound case management and is a person who is available after 3 p.m. to help parents and students connect to community programs and services, for example, find counseling, housing assistance, or after school programming.
Coblentz is a trained facilitator of the Girls Circle and the Art of Yoga programs which are offered at the Teen Center. These evidence-based programs build on girls’ strengths and offer safe spaces for girls to express themselves, to talk about the challenges of being a young woman, to learn communication and decision-making skills, and form healthy relationships with each other and positive adult mentors.
Boys also need that type of support and safe spaces to talk about the challenges facing teens today. Coblentz also coordinated the Council for Boys and Young Men program, facilitated at the Teen Center by Michelangelo Lobato. “Boys have opportunities to talk about what it is like to be in the ”Boy Box’ and the stereotypes of being a man in this culture. Do I have to be tough? Do I have to be violent? Can I be compassionate and caring, and what does that look like?”
Coblentz is certified to teach Mindfulness and Yoga in the schools and the community, and has taught evening classes for parents, teachers, and community members.
“My intention is to build upon the good work that is already happening in the schools,” Coblentz said. “One of our biggest strengths is that our teachers are passionate and curious. They are already seeing what the children need and implementing innovative programs in response to those needs. Teachers are using mindfulness techniques to help students focus and leading short movement sequences to break up the day and get students ready to learn. I am excited to hear more about what is already in place to support student and staff well-being.”
She plans to learn from what is working in other school districts, too. “We are looking at other models around the state and the country. A lot of schools with wellness programs focus on fitness and nutrition, but our primary indicators are in the mental health arena. So we’ll be looking at schools that are also focusing in that area while developing a plan that encompasses physical and emotional health,” Coblentz said.
Los Alamos Public Schools are fortunate to be supported by an engaged community that values education and a School Board that has taken this bold, forward-thinking approach to addressing the challenges before us. Many of the emerging trends are reflected in national data, so we are not alone in our attempts to find effective, sustainable supports for our students, staff and families. The Healthy Schools Initiative Team is committed to collaborating with community members and partnering organizations as we move forward.
Coblentz added, “To be most successful, this initiative will require the cooperation and support of many individuals. I look forward to leading this effort.”