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Garden City, NY: Local districts make mental health a top priority for students

Oct 1, 2018, Garden City, NY, LI Herald: Pupils’ mental health is top of mind at Locust Valley schools http://liherald.com/stories/pupils-mental-health-is-top-of-mind-at-locust-valley-schools,107610 With the new school year under way — following one that stirred discussions about school safety and mental health in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland Fla. — the Guardian checked in with local districts to see what measures were being taken to develop mentally, socially and emotionally healthy students. We focus first on Locust Valley, and hope to follow up with Oyster Bay-East Norwich in the coming weeks. At all grade levels, the district has implemented flexible, town hall-style meetings, middle school Principal Tom Hogan said, in order to facilitate open discussions about the issues students face. The meetings may focus on aspects of the curriculum, or they may deal with unforeseen circumstances. They can involve small groups, like sports teams, or larger groups, like all-boys or all-girls meetings. They can also be class-wide discussions. “We plan things in advance,” Hogan said, “but we build as we go as well. It’s about being responsive to the issues going on in the building.” Elementary schools… Bayville Elementary Principal Scott McElhiney also noted the Lunch Bunch program, in which the school psychologist meets casually with groups of three to five students over lunch. “She teaches them social skills,” McElhiney said, “and helps them with any social and emotional issues.”… … Middle school is when social media begin to play a major role in children’s lives, a fact not lost on district administrators. “Social media is really our focal point,” Hogan noted…. The high school health curriculum has integrated new state requirements that would help high schoolers not only understand various common mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, but to be able to identify the signs and symptoms in themselves, and in others. According to the high school’s assistant principal, Michelle Villa, the curriculum is designed to help students be able to say, “Depression is maybe something I’m experiencing,” and then take the next step by asking, “Who can I talk to about it?” before the emotions begin to manifest as self-destructive behavior. …