Forestville considers peer-to-peer program

FORESTVILLE — Members of the Forestville Central School Board of Education recently attended the 99th Annual New York State School Boards Association Conference in New York City and shared ideas at the November Board of Education meeting. According to Superintendent Renee Garrett, there was a major focus on mental health at the conference, which may result in a new peer-led program in the middle/high school.

During the Supervisory Reports portion of the meeting, Elementary Principal Lindsay Marcinelli reported on recent events from October, one of the busiest months at the elementary school. She thanked the local fire department volunteers for their fire prevention assembly, class presentations and goody bags for the students. She also thanked the new Parent Connection members for bringing back the popular haunted locker room.

Middle/High School Principal Daniel Grande announced that the technology and engineering students placed second in the trebuchet contest at the Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence. They competed against a dozen other schools with their life-size catapult, which was used to launch pumpkins at their target, a faux castle. He also reported that the senior class continued the tradition of visiting the elementary school with Halloween safety tips.

During the Board Reports portion of the meeting, school board members shared information from the seminars they attended at the NYSSBA conference. Board member Amy Drozdiel shared information about Natural Helpers: Students Keeping Peers Safe. The Natural Helpers program began in Washington State in 1979 and features a curriculum that is “based on the premise that when young people have problems, they most often turn to friends whom they trust for help, and that within every school an informal ‘helping network’ exists.” The program identifies students in the school who are already “natural helpers” and forms a network that is grounded in training and support to allow the group to serve their fellow students.

According to the Natural Helpers seminar that Drozdiel attended, the rationale behind the program involves the steady rise in violence in schools, suicide rates, social media and bullying, and mental health issues.

The Natural Helpers presentation at NYSSBA quoted Dr. Peter Gray of Boston College, who said, “Rates of depression and anxiety among young people in America have been increasing steadily for the past 50 to 70 years. Today, by at least some estimates, five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or anxiety disorder as was true half a century or more ago.”

To address this apparent need, the Natural Helpers program works with select students in crisis intervention, effective communication, understanding of confidentiality, trust, school responsibility and more. Garrett and other board members were very supportive of the presentation, and Grande is considering piloting the program in the middle/high school and will be presenting it to his team.

The next meeting of the Forestville Central School Board of Education is Thursday, Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. in the high school library.