Across New York State, there is a growing movement around mental health
education in schools and Mental Health First Aid. This article about the
Hamburg school district outside of Buffalo reflects this sea change.
Hamburg schools training staff to recognize kids’ mental health crises
By Barbara O’Brien | Published 7:40 a.m. December 4, 2017
If a student gets a bloody nose, her teacher sends her to the nurse.
But what if the student is having a mental health emergency?
By the time the next sch0ol year begins in September, everyone working in
the Hamburg Central School District ,
from the cook in the cafeteria to the custodian sweeping the floors to the
superintendent in the administration building, will know what to do.
“We’re not asking social studies teachers to treat students with mental
illness,” Superintendent Michael Cornell said.
But the district is training them to recognize the symptoms of mental
illness and direct students to someone who can help. The district also
wants to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.
“Our hope is people will see through a different lens,” said Assistant
Superintendent Colleen Kaney.
Nicole Dayka, coordinator of the district’s Youth at Risk program and one
of the trainers, said learning about what to do in a mental health
emergency is like learning CPR.
“This is the same thing, this is having the skill base in knowing what to
do,” she said. “It’s your job to direct them to appropriate help.”
The situation may not be as dramatic as cardiac arrest. Instead, it could
be a student putting his head down in class.
“Has anyone ever approached him, and talked to him and found out what is
going on?” Dayka said.
The mental health of children is getting attention from a lot of school
district administrators. Increasing funding for mental health services has
moved ahead of adding money for extra academic help as the top priority for
more than half of superintendents surveyed in October by the state Council
of School Superintendents.
“The biggest story nobody talks about is the mental health issue in
children,” Cornell said.
Hamburg started looking for grants several years ago, and secured one from
the Tower Foundation to give every employee a day-long training
session in Mental
Health First Aid .
The action plan follows ALGEE, an acronym for: Assess the risk for suicide
or harm. Listen non-judgmentally. Give reassurance and information.
Encourage appropriate professional help. Encourage self-help and other
“It was eye opening,” third-grade teacher Marilyn Reardon said of the
training. “I do have children that are on my heart and my mind when it
comes to some of the things they discussed.”
“Just like first-aid where you put a Band-Aid on the cut,” Kaney said,
“you’re going to look for the signs and get them to the appropriate medical
Kaney said the district also hopes to offer training to parents and local