Today’s Schenectady Gazette featured an article about the new mental health
education in school law. Please note that the MHANYS website for finding
out more information about the law is Administrators
look to mental health mandate as opportunity

They are embracing chance to destigmatize; talk about issue

Zachary Matson
Schenectady Gazette| July 14, 2018

As school districts prepare for a new mandate to teach mental health in all
grades, educators are hoping to reach beyond the requirement, in a push to
break down stigma associated with mental health issues.

The law, which took effect July 1, requires public schools teach students
about mental health as part of the physical education and health curriculum
at all grade levels.

The new requirement, pushed by the Mental Health Association in New York
State Inc. for five years before it was passed into law two years ago, aims
to start teaching students as early as possible about how their mental well
being factors into their broader health.

“We are not trying to make teachers clinicians or students to become mental
health experts,” said Glenn Liebman, CEO of the mental health association.
“We want to see a greater understanding about mental health. As our future,
we just want them to be better educated around mental health.”

Many districts have already included elements of mental health into the
curriculum of health classes; teachers have long infused lessons about
feelings and self-awareness into their classes; and districts in recent
years have developed partnerships to bring outside mental health providers
directly into schools or, in the case of Schenectady schools, launch an
internal team of providers

There will still be some work to do, though, as districts move to meet the
requirement. At a summer training session Wednesday hosted by the School
Administrators Association of New York State, most area administrators said
their districts included at least some mental health in their
curriculum but that they planned to “fill the gaps” in various grades with
less-formal mental health plans.

“We’ve been teaching mental health for years,” said Rebecca Carman,
director of policy and community development at Shenendehowa Central
Schools. “(The new law) forces you to rethink how you are handling it and
where there are gaps.”

But the administrators are looking to go well beyond the curriculum
requirement in efforts to support student mental health needs, eyeing
partnerships with community agencies that specialize in mental health.

*“What we didn’t want to do is focus on compliance at the lowest level,”
said Karen Bronson, who led the training as professional development
director for the School Administrators Association of New York State. “This
is really going far above compliance to getting far-reaching support to
students in all of our schools.”*

A panel of administrators at the training discussed the partnerships they
have with outside providers: Northern Rivers in Ballston Spa and Cohoes and
the Saratoga Center for the Family in Saratoga Springs.

The programs station licensed mental health counselors and other providers
directly in schools, easing the way for families to make appointments and
strengthening relationships between the mental health specialists servings
students and the educators working with them on a daily basis.

Those partnerships have introduced some educators to the challenges of
ramping up mental health efforts, facing the misconceptions surrounding
mental health firsthand.

“There’s still a general misunderstanding about mental health issues,” said
Clifford Bird, an elementary school principal in Cohoes, where Northern
Rivers mental health counselors work directly with students.

Bird said he faced backlash after creating space for a school-based mental
health clinic.

“You wouldn’t be mad at me if I brought in a dental health office. No one
would complain to me about bringing in a health clinic,” he said of his
response to the concerns. “We just haven’t broken down the barriers yet
around mental health.”

Educators and mental health advocates throughout the region and state,
however, hope the new curriculum requirement over time will start to break
down those barriers. By beginning as early as kindergarten to teach
youngsters about how to recognize mental health issues in themselves and in
other people, educators and advocates argue, a new generation of students
will start to think of mental health as just another form of good health.

The requirement gives districts the leeway to develop their own curriculum,
building toward a streamlined system that connects all grades into a
broader mental health curriculum.

“What I like about it is it’s K-12,” said Kris Jensen, longtime Ballston
Spa High School principal who recently moved into the district’s special
education director role. “To learn what is health behavior and talking
about your feelings, identifying what does that look like for a
kindergartner versus a third graders versus a high school student.”

In Schenectady schools, the district’s curriculum and pupil personnel
services directors are expected to report to Superintendent Larry Spring
about how to meet the new requirements later this summer, Spring said.

“We do an awful lot with mental health, but I don’t think we do it in the
way of thinking about curriculum,” Spring said. “You will see it play out
differently in different classrooms and different buildings.”

The administrators universally said they have seen an uptick in the mental
health needs of students in recent years, pointing to a rise in anxiety and
depression and the pressure that students face with the rise of social
media and around-the-clock cyberbullying. The mental health mandate
couldn’t come at a better time, they said.

“It’s so difficult being a child and adolescent… with things like
cyberbullying, you can’t minimize how significant things like that are,”
said Liebman.

But Liebman said by increasing the teaching of mental health in schools,
this generation of students may take a lead in breaking down the stigma
mental health advocates have been fighting against for decades.

“What we would like to see is mental health is now normalized and people
talk about it no differently than they talk about any physical illness,” he


Glenn Liebman, CEO
Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.