Students’ traumas prompt N.Y. educators to learn how to reach out

Meghan Finnerty
Published 10:53 p.m. ET March 1, 2018 | Updated 11:34 p.m. ET March 1, 2018

New York educators seeking better ways to deal with students’ trauma,
anxiety, depression and stress gathered Thursday in Greece.

The three-hour event at Odyssey Academy was the first night of a
two-part series sponsored by the School Administrators Association of New
York State and its partners.

Educators from across the state said they attended to be proactive, looking
for services and strategies to better help students.
Schools & the growing mental health crisis

“I don’t feel qualified for all of it,” Carrie Seitz, a Rochester City
School District teacher in the youth and justice program, said about
addressing traumas that her students have experienced.

However, “kids are craving the connection” with other people, she said.
‘Adolescence is important to watch’

Lisa Starr, an assistant professor in the department of clinical and social
sciences in psychology at the University of Rochester, said there is growth
in the number of children who have anxiety or depression, but it may be
harder to detect.

“Sometimes depression can be hard to recognize because it looks like a lot
of different things,” said Starr, one of a panel of experts who spoke at
the event. Depressed students may be irritable, skip homework or
appear lazy, she said.

A new law requires mental health education

A law that takes effect July 1 will require mental health education in all
grades in New York. passed that requires New York schools to teach
mental health for all grades.

“I hope you think it’s good news,” said John Richter, the director of
public policy with the Mental Health Association of New York State. He
encouraged educators to think of it less as a new class or topic, “but to
update the way you think about mental health,” and include it in existing
day-to-day classes.

It can be integrated into existing health class curriculum, and he said
there are opportunities in other classes. “In literature, if you’re
reading The Scarlet Letter, you’re going to learn an important lesson
about stigma. If you’re in biology and you’re talking about brain synapses,
you have the opportunity to talk about mental health,” Richter said.

Treat all students as if they have experienced trauma

Addressing mental health is “all-consuming. It’s wrapped up in our
strategic plan, in our planning, in our day-to-day work,” Greece schools
Superintendent Kathleen Graupman said.

All students have to be treated as if they have trauma because
educators don’t know their backgrounds, said Joseph Fantigrossi, who will
speak at the next part on March 22 at Odyssey. He is the pre-K-12
intervention coordinator for Lyons schools in Wayne County.

Academics and social and emotional learning can be done together, said
panelist John Garruto from the New York Association of School
Psychologists, and a school psychologist for the Oswego City School

Elizabeth Meeker, the director of training and practice transformation for
Coordinated Care Services Inc. and a licensed clinical psychologist,
said mindfulness can be taught universally.

She encouraged educators to try breathing exercises for students to help
manage the day’s stress. “You always have your lungs on you,” Starr added.

Connect the dots for opportunity

Educators were encouraged to not miss an opportunity to connect the dots.
If a student is having disciplinary meetings about attendance, behavior and
academics, there may be an underlying factor. That’s a possible opportunity
to address a mental health-related concern.

Even greeting a student is an opportunity to show support. “Take advantage
of those moments,” Meeker said.

In the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17
people, there has been an outcry for mental health issues to be addressed.

While events like a school shooting may make conversations about mental
health popular, Richter said the topic is something that should be paid
attention to all the time.

“Mental health issues don’t equate always to violence,” he said, adding
that it’s in “very rare instances that the mental health problem translates
into violence.” There is a greater concern that people with mental health
issues are more likely to be victims or could harm themselves, Richter

Demand and resources

An Increase in mental health literacy and student self-awareness is
expected to grow demand for health and wellness services.

As school districts may not have the money to hire more staff, Greece
Odyssey principal Jeffrey Green said, teachers need to be able to use the
resources available.

Educators can use academic time to talk about feelings and the lives of
students. In Greece schools, the staff spends a lot of professional
development time on addressing social and emotional learning, he added.

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