New Britain schools working with local health groups to provide students struggling with mental health support

Published on Friday, 10 December 2021 12:14
Written by Jeniece Roman


NEW BRITAIN – After health experts spotlighted the importance of children's mental health, which has been affected throughout the course of the pandemic, local health advocates and school officials have been actively working to provide resources.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association declared these challenges a "national emergency" and called for action to address the crisis. The group collectively represents over 77,000 physicians and over 200 children's hospitals.

School officials and health experts in New Britain are hoping to be proactive in their effort to help children who have struggled or are currently struggling with their mental health. The Consolidated School District of New Britain (CSDNB) is working with local health groups to provide a myriad of resources for both parents and students who find themselves struggling with the social-emotional aspects of making the transition back to school full time.

Jason Miramant, who is the principal at Brookside School, is the chair for CSDNB’s District Attendance and Social Emotional Learning Team. A former social worker, Miramant said he works with district social workers to anticipate the needs of students and families. He said both parents and school administrators could not foresee just how challenging the transition would be.

“We all wanted it to just happen. In September we wanted kids to just come in and get back with business and it was so much more that took place that we needed to understand as adults in working with our youth,” Miramant said.

The school district has worked to bring community partners to the table like the New Britain Youth, the New Britain Housing Authority, Department of Children and Family services, the Office of Human Rights, the Directory of Community Services and Klingberg Family Centers Inc. The CSDNB has worked with Community Mental Health Affiliates (CMHA) to provide two counselors at schools that monitor and assist the social and emotional needs of students.

CMHA Clinical Director Chris Marino, who works with outpatient clients, said the problem is prevalent in New Britain too. Marino said he has worked with students through trauma based work and social emotional learning. During the pandemic, Marino said there was a 5% increase in children who sought treatment for mental health concerns who had no previous treatment of mental health issues. He said typically children that are brought in for treatment have had at least one treatment prior.

“We saw that increase in the more internalizing issues that are bringing in kids to the hospitals right now such as anxiety and depression,” Marino said.

Miramant said the digital world is a wonderful thing in terms of staying connected. However, as students’ young minds are maturing, how they navigate the digital space can be challenging without adult support. He said the past two years has brought an emergence into the digital world now more than before because of the lockdown due to the covid-19 pandemic.

“There’s pro’s and con’s to that. The pro’s we found out that we could still deliver instruction to students and connect with students in that manner, but then there's also that feeling of having a disconnect from our students. We didn’t have them in front of us every day,” Miramant said.

The school environment is an essential one, Miramant said, because it acts as a home away from home. Children and teenagers’ brains develop to grow socially, emotionally and physically throughout the years. Miramant said the lack of having human interactions, like face to face contact, can make an impact on their development.

“That took a toll not only on students, I believe it also took a toll on adults, both at home with students but also the faculty,” Miramant said. “There are adults in our district as well who invest a lot of time and care for our students and families and a big piece of them was lost during this time as well.”

Miramant said these are different times and families and students have different needs. He said trauma for students or adults looks different in every individual.

“That can be a scary word sometimes but I think as we become more comfortable with talking about mental health there's an understanding that trauma is experienced by most everyone and has an impact on your day to day life. How it impacts one doesn’t necessarily impact the other, but the importance is we’re talking about those sorts of things now,” Miramant said.

Marino said many issues involve taking care of the parents, as well as children, when it comes to caring for the mental health of the family. The school district has worked with partners like CMHA to help students to acclimate back into the school environment. Part of that process is preparing the parents with tools for social emotional learning.

“We know that kids go home and they go home to parents who are also being affected by things as a result of the pandemic,” Marino said. “Whether it's a concern of basic needs, concerns of anxiety, depression themselves, maybe they’ve also known somebody in their family who’s been sick.

The goal of CSDNB is to educate the whole child, which Miramant said extends beyond just academics. The school district is invested in community partnerships, afterschool programs, enrichment activities and summer programs to prepare for life after their time with the school district. Any family can contact school officials or social workers and be connected to resources; whether its connections or other tangible resources.

“I’ve done a lot of work with different school districts so far this year and the end of last year. I couldn’t be more impressed with the effort that the city has made to bring in mental health professionals, agencies and different types of programs that can support these kids,” Marino said.

Posted in New Britain Herald, New Britain on Friday, 10 December 2021 12:14. Updated: Friday, 10 December 2021 12:16.