The Patchogue-Medford High School will welcome mental health classes this school year.
By Ashley Gagen and Ami Fall
New York State schools are in for changes this academic year. A new mandate, implemented on July 1st, 2018, now requires all schools incorporate mental health into the classroom.
At the Patchogue-Medford school district, students will now start a half-hour earlier, will have less time between classes, longer lunch and recess times, among other changes.
“Mental health has been there for quite a while to help and support kids,” Patchogue-Medford superintendent Dr. Michael J. Hynes said. “But unfortunately, it takes school shootings for us to actually start talking about it.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 13 percent of children from ages 8 to 15 experience a severe mental disorder at some point in their life.
The personal growth of students at the Patchogue-Medford school is impacted through methods ranging from extended lunch and recess time to mindfulness yoga sessions for grades K-8. Scarlett Lewis of “The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement” lead staff trainings, focusing on informing the staff members about the warning signs they must look for in a student dealing with trauma, anxiety or depression.
Tragically, Jesse was one of the 28 children murdered five years ago during the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. His mother, Scarlett, founded an organization in his name ‘The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement”. Choose Love is one of the web-based, free, programs that Patchogue-Medford will be using.
The addition of mental health into the curriculum has most students hopeful. “It’s about time,” McKenzie Smith, a 2018 graduate said. During her time at Patchogue-Medford, she believed that despite the district’s efforts, the resources were minimal.
Another 2018 graduate of Patchogue-Medford, Jordan Yates, whose younger brother still attends the district agreed. “The mental health awareness felt quite nonexistent. I’m glad that they’re finally going to do something about it,” he said.
A recent study done by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and the UCLA Civil Rights Project, found that U.S. schools currently have more security guards than social workers and psychologists. “That’s the problem,” Dr. Hynes said. “We are being extremely reactive instead of proactive.”
Dr. Hynes believes students should feel safe when they come to school. The presence of security officials can make a child anxious or scared. Schools across the country should maintain balance between funding for security needs as well as providing mental health outreach to students through faculty, he added.
According to the ACLU, schools need to focus on devoting more of their time getting resources for students and that starts with hiring mental health professionals for students to utilize.
Recent graduates from Patchogue-Medford wish the resources attributed to mental health were prioritized during their time as students.
“The guidance counselors at PMD are great,” Yates said. “I know if I ever have a problem now, even with being a graduate, I would go to them, and they would do their best in assisting me.” Both Yates and Smith are hopeful that the district will improve its mental health education. “It’s so important,” Smith says, “to learn the signs of mental illness at a young age is so critical. I wish it was done sooner.”
Dr. Hynes feels that the Patchogue-Medford district is approaching this mandate in the best way possible. “By integrating it into all their course studies, math, literature, science, social studies. They can learn about scientists, mathematicians, authors and more that dealt with a mental illness but did not let it didn’t define them,” he says. “I think if we isolated the subject, like we isolate all of our other subjects, it wouldn’t be effective as to doing it this way.”