Charter Pulse

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MASSACHUSETTS: Local schools’ mental-health workers honored for their efforts

charter-schools-achievementLOWELL — Anne Monoxelos never takes no for an answer when her students at Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School resist painting pictures.

Just do it, Monoxelos, a social worker at the school, will tell them, encouraging them to draw one line at a time.

Then, they begin to talk.

Stroke by stroke, dot by dot, the students who had dropped out of regular high-school programs in Lowell and nearby towns start to express their life struggles that caused many of them to suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts.

Don’t assume mental-health problems are only in students who come from certain backgrounds, experts say. In fact, 13 percent of all high-school students participating in the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey said they had seriously considered suicide. That’s why Littleton Middle School teachers urge students to show care and tell adults when they hear their students contemplating suicide, said Marilou Ingemie, seventh-grade foreign-language teacher at the school.

These teachers’ efforts make differences, said Steve Boczenowski, a Groton resident who founded Teenage Anxiety and Depression Solutions with his wife, Deb, after losing their 21-year-old son, Jeffrey, to suicide in 2009.

“Deb and I are just regular people. This problem just really affects regular people,” Boczenowski said as Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School, Littleton Middle School and two other educational institutions received recognition for their suicide-prevention initiatives.

On Tuesday, Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention Northeast Region presented its annual Leadership Award to LMACS and Littleton Middle School. Also receiving the award at the MCSP-Northeast’s annual breakfast were Arlington High School and Newburyport Youth Services.

Tricia Bunoacore, health teacher at Littleton Middle School, said all seventh-graders learn how to detect the signs of trouble among friends and how to seek help in a program called SOS. Littleton Middle School educators don’t see mental-health issues as something that only counselors should deal with, Bunoacore said.

They have made it the school culture to discuss and teach such issues, she said.

The biggest challenge the teachers have is teaching students to step forward and seek adults’ help when seeing their friends suffer, Ingemie said.

Barbara Whitcomb, president of See A New Sun Foundation in Littleton, said the school provides students with simple yet powerful tools to deal with difficult issues in life. The faculty and staff are “caring, sincere and honest,” Whitcomb said.

At LMACS, which educates 120 students ranging in age from 16-21, about two-thirds of them come from families who are at or below poverty level, and at least one in four has had mental-health treatment before enrolling the academy. Many students have “significant stressors related to family situations,” and the school makes several referrals to mental-health care organizations each month, according to the academy’s assistant director, Nancy Arseneaux. Getting them the treatment they need isn’t easy, however; many students do not have health insurance and lack family support for continuous treatments, Arseneaux said.

This means some LMACS students are too depressed to get up in the morning to go to school. This is why the faculty interviews the students at the time of enrollment, calls their homes to ensure their attendance and tries to stay connected with them emotionally.

One male student, who had been involved in gang activities, had refused to talk about himself, Monoxelos said. But once he was given a canvas, he depicted his sadness about his grandmother’s death in colorful brush strokes.

Larry Berkowitz, co-chair of MCSP-Northeast Region, praised the LMACS program as untraditional and innovative.

The school’s focus on mental-health and life-skill issues in addition to academics makes the program comprehensive, Berkowitz said.

Arseneaux is often curious why LMACS graduates were able to finish the academy after dropping out of the regular high-school programs. She often asks them a simple question: “What really works?”

Every one of them says, having someone who cares, Arseneaux said.

Source: Lowell Sun – by Hiroko Sato

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This entry was posted on October 24, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Massachusetts and tagged .

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