istock-6643197mediumBienestar: A High School Program for Traumatized Immigrant Adolescents
Los Angeles Unified School District, California

About our project:

The Bienestar (Well-being) Program has three key components 1) reduce trauma symptoms and improve academic outcomes for immigrant students by proving culturally sensitive, trauma informed services   2) provide trauma specific services: Cognitive Behavior Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS) to identified students, and   3) enhance the capacity of school mental health professionals to provide evidence based practices.   Bienestar involves collaborations between schools and organizations within LAUSD (i.e., School Mental Health, Belmont High School, and Guidance Assessment Center) and outside partners (UCLA Health Services Research Center, University of Southern California, and Los Angeles Department of Mental Health). For more information, view of poster.

Our work:

For two years, 9th grade students have been screened for violence exposure and PTSD symptoms. The first year, 90 students were screened revealing that about 95% of the students had exposure to traumatic events and 65% reported PTSD symptoms in the clinical range. Of those students with symptoms in the clinical range, about 40% had witnessed gun or knife violence. The second year of this program is still in progress, and the findings confirm prevalence rates found in the first year screening sample.

Initial efforts to establish a “Trauma Informed” teaching staff led to series of trainings to raise awareness about the relationship between trauma and learning, and to provide a Psychological First Aid model developed for schools, with the goal of increasing the teachers’ capacity to address the emotional needs of immigrant students. By increasing the awareness of mental health issues, teachers are better able to provide practical tools and steps to students who are in crisis or experiencing emotional difficulties and identify those who need further assistance. At the conclusion of the first year, Belmont HS administrators approached our staff to request an expansion of clinical and training services.   Year 2 has seen Bienestar focused on creating a “Trauma Informed” learning-support staff The program has thus far focused on creating a common language, developing a “trauma lens” and promoting resiliency and academic achievement of all immigrant students. A trauma-informed curriculum has been established for the entire academic year to train all staff in the learning support center at Belmont HS, made-up of more than sixteen school staff: social workers, attendance counselors, diploma project advisors, school psychologists, and an array of graduate student interns.

Demographic data:


Our Partners:

• LAUSD School Mental Health Services
• Belmont High school
• LAUSD Immigrant Student Guidance, Assessment and Placement Center
• UCLA Health Services Research Center
• LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Schools

What we are learning:

We have learned that providing intervention alone, without building the capacity of teachers and parents is not effective.

Visibility equals access.  As Bienestar has become known, we have become central members in a collaborative process seeking to bring a school-based health center to the Belmont area.  Such an initiative would open the door of access for over 50,000 students, mostly Latino, Korean and Philipino.  This effort opens the door of a new chapter within LAUSD and LA County, as historically silo-ized agencies and departments are collaborating, sharing not only the same table, but their resources for the benefit of children and families.

Success Stories:

Escape to Hope: Juan’s Journey to a New Land

When Juan entered America at the age of 16, he expected his uncle to be waiting for him. With his papers in order, he had no reason to believe his journey toward a good education and a successful future would be so difficult. But from the moment Juan approached the immigration officials, nothing went as expected. Juan was held in custody by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) until his uncle could prove Juan’s identity and fulfill other requirements for his release…

For more information about this project, contact Pia Escudero at