The Newcomer Wellness Initiative: A Creative and holistic approach to serving newcomers

Mar 15, 2019


Breakout Room #7


Oakland Unified School District is home to more than 2,800 recently arrived immigrant youth, mostly from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Since 2013 we have seen a significant and steady rise in our newcomer population with a large influx of unaccompanied youth. Feeling an urgency to provide more support for these young people, OUSD obtained grant funding in 2017 to launch the Newcomer Wellness Initiative, with the goal of supporting the mental health and overall wellbeing of newcomers in our middle and high schools. Over the course of the past year and a half we have grown our team to ten bilingual “Newcomer Navigators”, all of whom are social workers and MFTs, working across 12 school sites. Our team provides extensive services to approximately 1,500 students, using the multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) framework. Our work emphasizes a strengths-based, culturally responsive and trauma-informed approach of service to an extremely resilient, diverse and trauma impacted population.

In this presentation, we will set the context of our work with some background on who our newcomers are, where they come from and why they have come. We will also discuss some of the wide array of challenges that these youth face. The audience will learn more about our tiered supports with an emphasis on how diverse the work is depending on the culture, climate, and systems in place at the school sites. We will share our model of service as well as some best practices and tips that we continue to learn along the way. The key to this work revolves heavily around creativity and partnership, which we will highlight in this workshop along with the critical importance of attending to the well being of the service providers, so as to help mitigate the effects of extensive secondary trauma exposure.


All are welcome, including school administrators, teachers, social workers, counselors, nurses

Audience Takeaways:

Attendees of this workshop will leave with a more informed understanding of the context of newcomers, particularly from Central America. Participants will better understand the unique struggles many newcomers face and how they impact their well being and ability to be successful at school. Attendees will learn about our service model and walk away feeling more resourced with creative ideas, culturally responsive interventions and tips for increasing newcomer wellness and succes.

Ideally, all attendees will leave this workshop inspired to improve supports and services for newcomers in their schools, districts, and communities.

  • Julia Sitko, LCSW, PPSC

    Program Manager, Newcomer Wellness Initiative

    Oakland Unified School District


    BIO: Julia Sitko is an Oakland based bilingual LCSW, PPSC with 15+ years of public school experience in teaching and social work. Julia has worked in LAUSD, SFUSD, abroad in Guatemala and now in OUSD. Julia is currently the program manager for the Newcomer Wellness Initiative where she leads a team of ten bilingual social

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