Valley Stream schools take proactive approach to mental health

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Schimpf said that the district focuses on educating the whole child, and emotional literacy is a strong and vibrant part of the curriculum. When children are distressed, it can affect their grades, she explained.

Yashmira Devine, a social worker in District 13, said children often notice when their parents are under stress, which can affect their school work. “We want to reduce the anxiety that children bring to school,” she said. Devine added that social workers help with a variety of family issues.

Darren Gruen, principal of the James A. Dever School in District 13, said family support is key to ensuring that children come to school ready to learn. When the district can’t meet the needs of its students and families with its own staff, it can point them to a person or agency that can. District 13 has a wealth of resources at its disposal, he said.

“Our school, our parent body and our community at large work very closely to meet the social and emotional needs of all of our families,” Gruen said.

He said that most support is provided on a short-term, as-needed basis to help a student or family through a difficult situation. Parents are introduced to the district’s mental health staff early — even before their children have entered kindergarten.

“There’s a million things that we do that you don’t always think about,” he said.

Supporting teens

The Central High School District has one part-time and six full-time psychologists, as well as four full-time and two part-time social workers for its four buildings. Each school has at least three mental health support staff members available.

Additionally, there are guidance counselors, nurses and other therapists who are part of the pupil personnel services team. Jill Vogel, the director of guidance, said the district also has relationships with numerous outside agencies like the Peninsula Counseling Center, Tempo Group and psychiatry practices. These groups help students and families with issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, stress, eating disorders, fears and depression. “We use different agencies for different problems,” she said. “I’d say we have the appropriate resources to address most issues.”
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