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New York to invest in mental health services in public high schools

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the state education building announcing more than $108 million in grants for mental health resources in public schools
Samantha Simmons
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the state education building announcing more than $108 million in grants for mental health resources in public schools

New York Governor Kathy Hochul says more than $108 million in grants is available to boost mental health services in public schools. Hochul spoke Thursday at the state education building in Albany.

The Democrat, who emphasized getting students back in the classroom after COVID-19 lockdowns, announced $108.3 million in funding to support the implementation of mental health services and faculty training in schools throughout the state.

Hochul says there has been a noticeable a drop in social skills and test scores across the board.

“If we don’t give them support now, it’ll be irreversible. And it will affect their ability not just to get out of school but also their ability to get a job later and to ultimately lead a happy and fulfilling life,” she said.

$100 million will go directly to schools to hire specialized faculty and the remainder will support the expansion of school-based mental health clinics. The state will cover up to $25,000 in start-up costs and provide an additional $20,000 for districts in economically disadvantaged areas.

Hochul says there are major shortfalls in mental health personnel, and in conversations with students, she learned some districts have one counselor for hundreds of kids.

“That’s not serving our kids. That’s a failure. So, we’ll invest more money, allowing for more hiring, bringing in these professionals, help them on site. Don’t send them home and say ‘you should see a therapist someday,’ that’s probably not going to happen. Let them get support in school,” she said.

With the new school year quickly approaching, some upstate counties are seeing an influx of migrant children — not all of whom are school age. Hochul was asked about funding for districts enrolling asylum-seeking children.

“There are some school districts that have capacity more than others. And you also want to make sure that there’s, you know, the proper language skills being taught there. That English as a second language, you need specialized teachers. So, so not every school lends itself to being the best place for students.”

Democratic state Assemblywoman Pat Fahy of the 109th District and Chair of the Committee on Higher Education says tackling mental health in schools is a multi-pronged problem.

“Some of it is exercise and socialization strategies. Children have had to learn how to socialize again. How to break, we’ve seen whole school districts right now literally taking phone away, you know, using phones locks during the day to try to break this screen addiction, which is also, has also helped to fuel the mental health crisis. And you know, during COVID, we were encouraging screentime, because that’s the only way students could learn. Now we need to break some of that addiction,” she said.

Fahy says teachers will need resources too.

“Let’s hope that as we talk about more strategies, we are helping teachers as well, because certainly, teachers had to pivot overnight, to try to learn, to try to teach overnight. They often had their own families struggling with their own challenges, the trauma of COVID, the trauma of what so many families went through is not over. So, I think as we teach teachers, we are also helping them with teaching their students.”

The program emphasizes working with elementary students, but Fahy says more work needs to be done for teens and college students who may have fallen through the cracks.

“We do have the alternative programs, Hudson Valley, many GED programs, we’ve got to reclaim these students or the streets claim them,” she said. “And we know from crime statistics, the streets are claiming them if we don’t.”

Applications for districts are open until August 18th.

Samantha joined the WAMC staff after interning during her final semester at the University at Albany. A Troy native, she looks forward to covering what matters most to those in her community. Aside from working, Samantha enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and cat. She can be reached by phone at (518)-465-5233 Ext. 211 or by email at ssimmons@wamc.org.