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Baldwinsville school district pours resources into mental health initiative

Baldwinsville students

Next Tuesday, taxpayers across Central New York will head to the polls to vote on school budgets. Many include school safety upgrades in light of the Parkland shooting. As part of that, there has been a push to focus on mental health in the Baldwinsville School District. And students are finding themselves as part of the solution to help keep their schools safe.

Inside CW Baker High School in Baldwinsville, 18-year-old Greg Porceng and Alec Williams are on a mission, connecting with their classmates. “There are many many passionate individuals who care a lot for this school and care a lot for the future of society and humanity and that’s inspiring to myself,” Greg Porceng said.

They are inspiring change and leading the charge to create an environment where students feel accepted. The two seniors recently joined a student-based group focused on mental health. It is an idea that came to light nearly three months ago when terror took over a high school in Parkland, Florida. Parkland, for sure, was something that I woke up the next day and I just felt like a completely different person,” Porceng said. “And the perspective in imagining if that happened in our school.”

Greg and Alec quickly realized they had to do something to encourage kids to get to know one another, interact with each other and reach out to those who feel isolated and disconnected. “It’s the fact that we’re having difficult conversations because when we start to have these conversations, then we stop dancing around the issues and we start going at what needs to be talked about,” Alec Williams said. “When we start opening up about these types of things, then you can finally start to find solutions.”

At the forefront of finding those solutions is Superintendent Matthew McDonald who says he struggled with mental health issues as a kid including dyslexia, ADD, anxiety and depression. McDonald says there has always been a stigma attached to mental health and he is working hard to change that. “There’s always been a stigma and people have been afraid of discussions related to suicide to depression or anxiety or anything related to mental health,” McDonald said. “There’s a big umbrella…I was never afraid of it. I just saw so many young kids struggling. I said I’m not going to let it happen.”

Under his watch, the district has poured resources into its mental health initiative, stationing a school psychologist and a social worker at the elementary school. They have two guidance counselors, a psychologist and social worker at the middle school along with four guidance counselors and a psychologist at the junior high. There are six guidance counselors and a psychologist at the high school. The district is also partnering with Liberty Resources to provide school-based mental health clinics at the middle, junior high and high schools.

Karrie Lamacchia and Rocco Nalli are part of the group that makes up Baldwinsville’s mental health team. “It’s more of a comprehensive overall mental wellness initiative,” Lamacchia said. “And we’re very fortunate that our administration recognizes that and is putting supports in place to help us look at the overall child.”

As part of that, they have formed a mental wellness committee, bringing together voices from schools, law enforcement and the community to help students deal with stress and anxiety. They are recruiting student leaders like Greg and Alec to be mentors for other students. “Training them what should they do,” Training them what should they do,” Nalli said. “Not sure what to see, but what steps can they take when that happens so kids can get immediate support and help when they need it instead of it being pushed off and nothing being done.”

Students, teachers and staff are being the eyes and ears, and watching for warning signs and tackling tough issues head on to create a safer place for students to learn and grow together. “We should be finding those people and not isolating them even more, but we should go up to them and help them find the help that they need,” Porceng said.

Superintendent McDonald says safety is his number one priority, and he looks at each and every student as if they were his own children. The district plans to expand the partnership with Liberty Resources next year with additional counselors as they increase their focus on mental health.

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