Superintendent's Student Advisory Council Awarded Prestigious Golden Bell Award for Supporting Social-Emotional Wellness

The Poway Unified School District Board of Education is extremely proud to announce that the Poway Unified School District (PUSD) is the recipient of a 2023 Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association (CSBA). This prestigious honor, which highlights the best education practices across the State of California, is being awarded to the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council (SSAC), for their work in supporting social-emotional health and wellness for PUSD students. The award was presented to SSAC students at the December 14, 2023, Board of Education meeting. 
students receiving award from board
Under the leadership and direction of Superintendent Dr. Marian Kim Phelps and Chief Communications Officer Christine Paik, SSAC's purpose is to advise District leadership on issues facing students, provide input and student voice on District decisions affecting students, develop students’ leadership skills, and implement a service project to benefit fellow students. SSAC is comprised of a diverse group of student leaders, nominated by their principals, representing high schools from across the District: Abraxas High School, Del Norte High School, Mt. Carmel High School, Poway High School, Poway to Palomar Middle College, Rancho Bernardo High School, and Westview High School.
superintendent's student advisory council
SSAC’s student-led approach to impacting social-emotional health and mental wellbeing districtwide serves as an outstanding and innovative example of how empowered learners can affect positive change. Following a districtwide survey of over 10,000 middle and high school students to assess prevailing needs, SSAC has created an annual service project over the past five years to address the following goals:
  • The need for more counselors
  • Increased belonging and inclusivity
  • Increased awareness of available mental health resources
  • Healthy ways to relieve stress
  • More balanced approach to academics
Service projects include SSAC's "No Place for Hate" Conference (March 2020) to increase belonging and inclusivity on school campuses. Building on PUSD’s partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, SSAC dramatically expanded the “No Place for Hate” program in PUSD beyond just the high schools. SSAC’s No Place for Hate Conference taught elementary and middle school students various activities to implement at their own schools to combat bullying and bias and build understanding, belonging, and inclusivity. This was the catalyst for the No Place for Hate program eventually being implemented at a total of 38 out of 39 of PUSD schools!
During the initial rollout of distance learning during the pandemic (April 2021), SSAC planned a “Week of Wellness” virtual conference in collaboration with PUSD counselors and student support specialists. Elementary, middle, and high school students and their parents were invited to attend the online sessions which included topics such as “How to Advocate for your Mental Health,” “Tips for Self-Care,” and “How to Get Help.” Prior to the event, SSAC member Emily Bylsma (who also served as PUSD’s Student Board Member) presented a proposal to allow mental health days as excused absences. The proposal received Board approval, amending Board Policy 5113.
In 2022 as students were returning to in-person learning, SSAC put on the "Conquer Conference." This conference aimed to destigmatize discussions around mental health. SSAC organized breakout sessions designed to "conquer" challenges faced by students such as fostering healthy relationships, feeling isolated, and healthy hobbies.
student group photo
The 2023 "Pursuing Passion, Not Perfection" conference targeted 8th graders transitioning from middle school to high school. About 300 PUSD student and parent attendees learned about time management, choosing high school classes based on strengths and passions, and understanding what colleges look for in student applicants. “Students may feel the pressure to overload their schedules with as many extracurricular and Advanced Placement classes as possible, without considering their strengths, interests, or passions. This contributes to needless stress,” explained Prisha Puntambekar, former SSAC member and 2022-23 PUSD Student Board Member. The conference, held in partnership with high school counselors, student support specialists, the Career Technical Education (CTE) Department, and UC San Diego, received positive feedback from attendees. Due to high interest, with over 100 people on the waitlist, the conference will be repeated in April 2024.
keynote speaker with parentsstudent panel
Superintendent Phelps expressed, “In my entire career as an educator, I have never been prouder of a group of students than I am of SSAC. Our SSAC students have helped create a cultural shift in PUSD, prioritizing social-emotional and mental health among students, families, and staff. The difference they are making should not be underestimated. Their efforts are saving lives.”
Dr. Darshana Patel, School Board President, shared her admiration for SSAC, saying, "I have been so impressed by such impactful and meaningful student work. We have all learned and benefited so much from our SSAC, and I cannot wait to see what they do next."

 About CSBA’s Golden Bell Award Program

The Golden Bell Awards are presented by the California School Boards Association to promote excellence in public education and school board governance practices. The awards reflect the depth and breadth of education programs and governance decisions supporting these programs that are necessary to address students’ changing needs. CSBA is a non-profit education association that represents the elected officials who govern public school district and county offices of education, supporting nearly 1,000 education agencies and more than 6 million students statewide. To learn more about the Golden Bell Awards and the 2023 winners, visit: 

 About Poway Unified School District

The Poway Unified School District (PUSD) is an award-winning, national leader in TK through 12 public education. PUSD serves 41 schools in the northern suburbs of San Diego County. PUSD is the 3rd largest public school district in the County, serving nearly 35,000 ethnically diverse students and 4,000 staff members. Named a 2019 California Exemplary District and 2022 California Pivotal Practices District, PUSD’s vision is “to create culture and conditions to empower world-class learners.”