Mental health in our schools

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May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. That distinction has only been in existence since 2013, so it is relatively new, but mental health problems are a burden that millions of Americans have struggled with daily for decades.
Declaring May the month to focus on this nationwide problem was proclaimed by our federal government April 30, 2013, with the intent to raise awareness of the trauma that comes from the condition, and the impact it can have on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children, families, and communities.


It wasn’t too much longer thereafter that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) began to focus more intently on the impact of mental health issues on our school-age children and their families.


Taken from NYSED’s website: “Research has shown that the quality of the school climate may be the single most predictive factor in any school’s capacity to promote student achievement. When young people are educated about mental health, the likelihood increases that they will be able to effectively recognize signs and symptoms in themselves and others and will know where to turn for help. Health education that respects the importance of mental health, as well as the challenges of mental illness, will help young people and their families and communities feel more comfortable seeking help, improve academic performance and, most importantly, even save lives.”


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “focusing on establishing healthy behaviors during childhood is more effective than trying to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood. An equally important part of this conversation is to help students identify risk and protective factors, as learning and resiliency can result in positive decision-making and life-long success, which are the primary goals of health and education.”
The result of that research, and subsequent creation of NYS learning standards to be taught in our schools, trickles down to Groton Central School just as it does to every other school in New York, and the 23-year veteran health teacher, Scott Weeks, is at the helm of responsibility for teaching them to GCS’s students.


Having taught the health classes for the past 23 years, as well as having been the track coach for 24 and cross-country coach for 21, Weeks has a unique perspective and a very clear pulse on where his students are at, both in and out of the classroom.


Weeks said he has definitely seen a breakdown through the years in how students cope with life, and while many factors can and do contribute to it, he believes the single-most factor that is the key to all of it is their relationships – with one another and with adults – and his basic mantra for making any of those relationships work well is to simply “be kind”!


There are three main levels of learning standards mandated by NYSED, which Weeks has fully embraced and tailored to fit the culture of Groton students.
NYSED Standard 1: Personal Health and Fitness; Students will have the necessary knowledge and skills to establish and maintain physical fitness, participate in physical activity, and maintain personal health.


Weeks translates this to self-management and resiliency. He related his own personal experience in having resiliency challenged by his first child who “just would not sleep, so therefore I didn’t sleep. It took a toll on me, so now I can teach my students that getting good sleep is so important for making sure you can get through the day.”


Beginning in the sixth grade, Weeks emphasizes that the students dwell on the positive, and gets them doing things that make them feel good about themselves. He has every student make a personal scrapbook about their family, friends, hobbies, or successes in their lives. “The key in that,” said Weeks, “is that I insist on quality work, even for something like a scrapbook, because they will feel better about themselves for it, and it teaches them to produce quality work, which is a skill employers will look for when they get to that part of their lives.”


NYSED Standard 2: A Safe and Healthy Environment; Students will acquire the knowledge and ability necessary to create and maintain a safe and healthy environment.


“This is the area where being kind can really make a difference,” Weeks said. “In my classroom, I simply won’t tolerate anyone being unkind.” For this standard, Weeks said he puts a very heavy emphasis on their personal relationships with people, especially their peers, because bullying has become so second-nature to so many of them, but he also makes sure he teaches them to have good relationships and respect for any adult in their lives.


Weeks said, “Healthy relationships equal a healthy mind. When relationships break down, mental health does too.” The push to get them to be kind no matter what is very important to Weeks. “I teach them how being kind affects them and others. They make someone else feel good, and then they feel good when they see how good they made someone else feel. It’s a win-win for everybody that way.”


NYSED Standard 3: Resource Management; Students will understand and be able to manage their personal and community resources.


To address this standard, Weeks teaches his students what resources are available to them for their needs, within the school and outside the school in the community and beyond. He has fostered a good partnership with the Tompkins County Advocacy Center and has them come into the classes to give presentations and other resources.


Weeks stated how important it is for him and every staff member to recognize student needs, and then help and guide them to connect the dots to the resources they might need to help them.


Tapping into some resources of his own, Weeks will spend time this summer attending workshops and training at TST BOCES to leverage his curriculum development for the coming academic year.


When asked what he thinks the greatest barrier for students to be mentally healthy is, Weeks said, “Kids are less resilient now than I have ever seen them. They are unable and/or unwilling to receive constructive criticism or to deal with difficult people. Their expectations are not realistic. They are not patient and have been conditioned for instant gratification. Not all of them; there are some great kids, but too many are the other way.”


Weeks also strongly believes that everyone in a child’s life needs to be on the same page and that adults need to work together to try to ensure that students are taught the value of respect for the adults in their lives.


Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, lmc10@cornell.edu or 607-227-4922.

In brief

Everybody into the pool!
The tentative opening day for the Groton Memorial Park Pool is Wednesday, June 26.


Once the pool is open, the regular hours for open swimming will be 12:30 to 4:30 and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Adults only may swim from 12 noon until 12:30 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. daily Monday-Friday.


Groton Recreation will be running six weeks of children’s swim lessons that will begin Monday, July 1. The fee per week is $10 for residents and $15 for non-residents. There are no refunds once lessons begin.


Registration will take place at Groton Elementary School from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 11, Wednesday, June 12, and Thursday, June 13.


Lessons will run on a week to week basis. There will be testing at the end of each week or session. Children will advance to the next class when the child is ready.


A certificate will be issued to each child upon the completion of a class or on their last day of swim lessons. All parents are to wait outside of the pool area during swim lessons.

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