To address growing concerns over student mental health, the Hochul administration announced millions of dollars in grants are available for school districts to meet the need.
Wappingers Central School District Superintendent Dwight Bonk says over the past two years, his district has spent more than $1.2 million to fund 12 mental health professionals.
“I can tell you we are seeing students that are sick are experiencing some serious mental health issues,” Bonk said. “And we believe that it's our responsibility to work with them to help them with the issues that they have. Because obviously, if mentally they're having some issues academically, socially, they're going to have issues as well.”
Wappingers is one of many districts that has applied for the state grants.
The money would go toward addressing mental health needs in schools by hiring more professionals, updating facilities and creating programs for students.
“What we're looking to do is expand upon the efforts of our district to provide students with mental health issues,” said Bonk.
According to the CDC, in 2021, 42% of students reported being depressed and 29% say they experienced poor mental health. More than 22% of students say they seriously considered attempting suicide, and 10% reported that they actually tried to take their own lives.
One parent in the school district, Chrissy Tartaglone, says she noticed some students feeling more anxious and hopes more resources will help.
“Hopefully the programs can take away the stigma of mental health and open up lines of communication,” said Tartaglone.
Bonk says he plans to hire between two to four more staff members that will work directly with the district’s support behaviorists.
“Students still, to this day, seem to feel somewhat disconnected, and their self-esteem is low for really no good reason. I think that's a result of the pandemic. Everyone did the best that they could during remote learning, but it was not optimal. It was not successful,” said Bonk.