Schools and Communities Are Coming Together to Support Students' Mental Wellness

New York City, New York, USA
New York City, New York, USA

As we work to meet the social, emotional and academic needs of all our school children, mental health must be a focus. We know that our schools are a common point of entry for children seeking help for mental health concerns, and we also know that -- for many more students -- there are stigmas around coming forward and asking for help.

First and foremost as a grandmother, but also as a lifelong educator, I want to ensure mental health issues are not a barrier to any student's learning.

In order to better reach all students and families, we've joined ThriveNYC - the City's plan spearheaded by NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray to improve and promote the mental health of its residents. The Department of Education is working in close partnership with the Health Department to assess the mental health needs of schools Citywide, and expand training and resources to meet students' mental health needs.

At the 130 Community Schools across the City, communities congregate to share resources to serve the "whole child" and improve student achievement. Students and families can access social services and robust mental health services through school-based clinics, including crisis interventions and counseling. For example, at P.S. 188 in Manhattan, students and families have access to a school-based mental health clinic, social workers, crisis specialists and workshops on behavioral management.

Another way we're promoting our children's wellness is through the new Youth Mental Health First Aid Trainings, free to all New Yorkers as part of ThriveNYC. We encourage staff members - beyond guidance counselors and social workers - in addition to family and community members, to get training so they can identify early signs of at-risk students.

The trainings teach the necessary skills to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health challenges. While we must reduce stigmas around self-reporting, they still exist, and early identification by community members can translate to early interventions before a situation escalates.

Another easy step to increase awareness is to make mental health part of everyday conversations. Whether in a classroom, after school program, or at home - having candid, tough conversation and encouraging others to share their perspectives can take the temperature down.

We are launching the first phase of the School Mental Health Consultant Program, bringing experts into 290 schools this month and all schools by the end of the year. Our school mental health consultants will promote and increase awareness around mental health; develop an individualized school mental health resource plan; connect community-based providers to schools; and provide training and consultation to staff in order to address student mental health concerns.

Additionally, we are investing $29 million in research-based mental health programs, providing schools with the training and support necessary to promote positive behaviors and treat struggling students, address root causes of distress in our students, and also focus on early detection. This includes deploying new mental health resources at 100 high-needs public schools; expanding social-emotional learning to all pre-K programs over the next three years; and offering three new mental health trainings to staff across the City: Youth Mental Health First Aid, At-Risk Training, and Making Education Partners in Youth Suicide Prevention.

While mental health challenges can come in different forms and be triggered by an event at home, by high stress levels or overwhelming emotions, no student should ever feel alone. Together - with families, partners, and school communities across the City - we will continue to work tirelessly and ensure mental health issues do not keep our students from thriving.

I encourage families to reach out to their principals, parent coordinator or guidance counselor for more information, or go to the ThriveNYC website, to learn more about serving your child's mental health.