“No one should feel alone at Briarcliff High School,” said social worker Tim Pellegrin. “We are always here – we have an open-door policy.”
The high school has cast a large safety net in the form of clinicians, teachers, and administrators, who are there to help students whenever they need assistance or guidance, or even just a place to relax.
Mr. Pellegrin and Student Assistance Counselor Meredith Ohmes have a wide array of methods and programs to support student emotional and mental well-being.
“We want to encourage students to come to us to receive counseling as needed, so there is a lot of work done on an individual basis,” Mr. Pellegrin said. “The wellness center is a therapeutic space where students can visit if they are struggling and need help – whether if it is to speak on the moment, to set up a future meeting, or even just to have a few minutes to relax and breathe if that is what’s needed.”
Mr. Pellegrin and Ms. Ohmes acknowledge that sometimes students may not choose to come on their own, but rather after a parent or a teacher initiates contact.
“We just want to make sure they know that we are here to provide support and that students have an open invitation to come and speak with us whenever they are ready,” Mr. Pellegrin said.
Over the past few years, Mr. Pellegrin and Ms. Ohmes have sent optional, mental check-in surveys to the entire student body. The surveys have garnered a strong response and Mr. Pellegrin, Ms. Ohmes and the guidance counselors have followed up with many students as a result.
“We had the students assess their feelings and we asked them if they are currently connected with an adult in the school, and if they were not, we asked if they would like to speak to someone,” Mr. Pellegrin said.
In addition to offering one-on-one counseling, Briarcliff High School introduces the concept of social and emotional health in a variety of settings.
For example, Mr. Pellegrin presents mindfulness lessons to ninth grade biology classes and hopes to introduce lessons on self-compassion into health classes in the future.
Ms. Ohmes runs a Positive Influencers class for ninth graders, which is an eight-session course offered during lunchtime. During the sessions, students review coping skills, learn how to help a friend and discuss substance abuse as well as family relationships.
Parents are part of the equation as well. Recently, Ms. Ohmes and Briarcliff Middle School Student Assistance Counselor Alexa Mennuti presented to parents on how to know when their child needs help. Ms. Ohmes and Mr. Pellegrin also spoke about the importance of mental health at the ninth-grade orientation.
“It is important for students to understand their emotions and to build self-awareness,” Mr. Pellegrin said. “That way they can find ways to manage their emotions. They also need to understand the nature of their thoughts. Breathing exercises or doing things that they enjoy can also help them manage difficulties. Once they are aware of their thoughts and feelings, if they notice that they are having negative thoughts or that they begin catastrophizing, they can then challenge these thoughts and we can break them down together. They can look at each incident and ask themselves: what is actually happening? How bad is the outcome? What thoughts did I put into this and were those thoughts accurate or helpful?”