Health and Wellness at VSN: People Providing Support
By Craig Papajohn-Shaw
Volume 2 Issue 6
April 14, 2022
Image provided by NPR
Two years have passed since the start of the quarantine period of the COVID-19 pandemic. With in-person learning, optional masking, and a full selection of extracurricular activities back in action, the last two years are starting to feel distant, and Valley Stream North High School students seem to be getting back to what was once known as "normal." However, the interruption of learning over the last couple of years has led many teens to suffer from what experts are calling “pandemic-related stress” Trying to learn through a screen, a disparity in the connection with others, and a lack of a consistent routine have generated stress, anxiety, and behavioral issues in the school environment. Valley Stream North, and the district alike, have employed various methods of supporting the complex reactions students have had to the return to school.
A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on April 1st shows 1 in 3 high school students experienced “poor mental health” during the pandemic, with 44.2% encountering two or more weeks overcoming a period of “sadness and hopelessness.” In an interview with Assistant Principal Mrs. Buonaspina, she acknowledged how involved the Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) department has been in expanding the resources in the wellness division and that the “cohesiveness of the department has contributed to the great work they have done.” She said, “Good communication is key,” adding, “having everyone in the loop benefits the mental health of the students because it allows the proper assistance to be provided.” The PPS department, comprised of our guidance counselors, school psychologists, and school social worker has addressed the mental state of students since the pandemic began:
“We recognize that there have been academic and social-emotional challenges associated with the return to full-time in-person learning. The goal of the PPS department is to provide ongoing support to meet the needs of our scholars through a variety of services including academic interventions, school-based counseling, individual check-ins with PPS staff, and referrals to community mental health resources when needed. The PPS department will continue to provide support to our students and families throughout the school year and help to encourage our students’ success.”
Mrs. Buonaspina talked about some of the new resources the school and the district have put in place to support students. For one, there is the Wellness Center, which was established in the Spring Semester of the 2020-2021 school year. She describes how two guidance counselors and the three school psychologists (Ms. Christiansen, Ms. Kehoe, and Dr. Byrne) rotate hosting the center’s sessions. She also explains how the collaborative group activities that the PPS department creates on a weekly basis help overcome the potential stigma of getting guidance. The PPS department specifically explains, “Members of our staff are also available to meet with students during designated extra help times and at the Wellness Center, which offers additional support on Tuesdays from 3:15 pm-6:15 pm. As part of the programming, students can schedule individual appointments and participate in group activities to help promote overall wellness and community. The Wellness Center group activities have included activities which include meditation, art, cooking, yoga, and dance throughout this year.”
The Wellness Center has proven a good outlet for students dealing with mental health issues which sometimes manifest into academic struggles or an increase in disciplinary referrals. Learning at home may have resulted in a lack of structure and returning to school has caused some students to have a difficult time readjusting to routines and rules. Mrs. Buonaspina says the PPS department and the school administration have bi-weekly meetings to identify patterns in students who may need additional support. She has since added the dean and the school nurse to these meetings to see if there are connections between students’ disciplinary infractions and their mental health. To seek out more connections, the school sent out a survey to identify which students may need additional support. Within North, many students were identified, and all counselors will have meetings with those kids. To continue supporting the community, the PPS department states, “Parent forums and monthly newsletters are also made available on a district level to keep the community updated on current events, activities, and information regarding student wellness and available support resources. If students need the contact information for a PPS staff member, it is located on North’s website, as well as the showcase outside of the guidance office.”
The mental health of students remains a top priority within the Valley Stream Central High School District; the PPS department, alongside our school administration, will continue to assess what students need in the coming months. Overall, the Wellness Center has been a remarkable success, with students consistently signing up for the creative weekly activities and individual appointments. For additional resources, please check out the North Star’s mental health corner.