Sarina McGough Choi, English teacher at Sleepy Hollow High School, shares how the program Youth Mental Health First Aid (“YMHFA”) is transforming how students’ social and emotional needs are met at school.
This past fall, I had the opportunity to participate in the YMHFA Training Session for School Professionals as part of TUFSD’s Superintendent’s Conference Day. Kids’ Club of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow generously funded this district-wide initiative to train teachers, administrators, and staff members from across the building to identify, acknowledge, and assist students experiencing personal and mental health challenges. The all day workshop provided invaluable information on how we can better serve our students, each other, and the community at large, as we face the demands of life today.
The session was divided into multiple workshops that met in different buildings, with a variety of school personnel assigned to each building. Each group was trained in mental health awareness and available resources. In particular, we focused on being front line responders. We learned to look for signs of change in our students and how to approach them in non-threatening ways that allow us to gather information and guide them towards the resources they need to get additional help. We also learned about helping ourselves and making sure that we are not over-extended. Specific scenarios were analyzed and discussed in order to develop approach plans and give each other feedback. It was especially helpful to apply the structure of the course to the specific situations of our students and school district.
As a teacher, I found the day to be particularly useful. As a high school teacher, I learned of the challenges faced by my colleagues in the elementary and middle schools, both the similarities and differences. We spent a good amount of time addressing the impact of COVID and how that has impacted our students’ mental health in addition to our mental health in the short and long term. I also left the session feeling better equipped to approach my students when I am concerned about their well-being; I know that when I ask questions about their lives and changes that I see, it is coming from a place of concern. Additionally, I know that there are resources to support me and others in difficult times, including the colleagues with whom I trained. In these times of great uncertainty, the YMHFA workshop provided me with invaluable tools to navigate the coming months as we all move forward.