Project Success has helped numerous high school students at Rohnert Park’s Rancho Cotate High and their parents deal with the pressures and turmoil of life.
The program is part of a bigger entity, Save Our Students (SOS) Counseling, which is based in Santa Rosa and funded by Sonoma County.
Project Success is offered at a number of other high schools in the county, including Windsor, Healdsburg and Petaluma.
This program has been at Rancho Cotate for nearly 10 years. The person currently heading up the program at the school is Flash Welch, in his second year at Rancho Cotate. But this is his sixth year being involved with Project Success. He spent the previous six years working with Project Success in west Sonoma County.
Supporting counseling staffs
“We provide support for the counseling and administrative staffs at the schools,” Welch said. “What we do specifically is work with students, we work with parents. We work with teachers’ administration, but most of our work is with the students.”
How it works is students who are facing difficulties are referred to Project Success through guidance counselors. Sometimes, they receive referrals from people off campus.
“We would bring a student in and do an assessment,” Welch said. “We’ll work with them and deal with the crisis on the spot. The crisis could be at home or in school, but we try to deal with it as quickly as we can.”
Some of the crises Project Success often deal with involve drug or alcohol abuse as well as abuse in the home. Welch said the Project Success staff tries to be as proactive as possible when it senses a problem with a student.
“The hope is that we can increase the communications to be able to give students the services they need,” he said. “Through Project Success, we reach out to individuals outside the school. It could be their therapist or other significant people in their lives.”
Erring on side of caution
One concern with being proactive is sometimes a problem may not be as severe as expected.
“As a counselor or coordinator, we always have to err on the side of caution,” Welch said. “And that caution could be reaching out to CPS (Child Protective Services) or the CAPE (Crisis Assessment and Prevention Education) team. The main thing is that we take care of the student and we make the best choices possible in order to do that.
“There are always risks for any counselor or any coordinators when they’re in the situation of utilizing the resources that we have on and off campus. We make the best choices possible. In terms of wanting to be intrusive or not, we’ll be there with the student and we have some role inside the house whether consciously or subconsciously.”
There are many other issues that need to be addressed.
“You’re also talking about the regular pressures, such as classes, academics, college…how students cope in general,” Welch said. “It’s an involved process. When you’re talking about working with a population of about 1,600 students with a variety of needs and concerns, the school needs to utilize as many resources as possible. With Project Success, we’re one of those resources.”
The Project Success staff at Rancho Cotate also includes a trainee and a counselor.
The pressure of growing up in a difficult environment is something not lost on Welch, 43, who grew up in the rough neighborhood of Compton, located in Los Angeles. He knew he wanted no part of what life in Compton could offer and sought out other locations to make his mark. In high school, he contemplated attending UC Berkeley or St. Mary’s in Moraga. But he knew he found his spot the first time he set foot on the Sonoma State University campus.
“There’s one school that stood out and that was SSU,” Welch said. “As soon as I got off the bus I fell in love with it. The green trees, the fresh air…the people were really cool and kicked back. I was tired of the violence and all the drama that came along with where I was. I worked for three years to get to SSU.”
Making the choice to attend SSU became even easier for Welch because of its counseling program. Welch has his Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and his Master’s in school counseling. He said he’s picked up other certificates along the way.
“I knew that I liked to work with people,” Welch said. “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I got into my freshman year. I continued to pursue my psychology and along the way I decided I wanted to do school counseling. That was an additional appeal to SSU because it offered a school counseling program.”
Mental illness misconceptions
Another part of Project Success is the Ed CORE program, which deals with mental health. Welch said one misconception about mental health is the stigma attached to it.
“People think of mental illness as that of people being crazy,” Welch said. “Ed CORE is trying to break down that stigma. Mental health is taking care of yourself, learning how to take care of yourself and expressing yourself. My Ed CORE students, about 30 of them, have the chance to reach out to other students during activities on campus. It’s important to have students work with others to connect and increase self-awareness. That helps them make healthier choices.”
Welch said satisfaction with his job comes from being in an environment where he can help young adults with whatever issues arise.
“I like being able to come to work every day and know I’m in a position where I can not only talk with them but guide them to resources they need to make good decisions,” he said.