MarConsultant Marian Cassata updates the Sag Harbor School Board of Education Monday night on her recommendations for a comprehensive plan to provide greater health services for Sag Harbor students.
By Ellen Frankman
The Sag Harbor School Board of Education met on Monday, August 19 with a particular focus on the implementation of a comprehensive drug and alcohol prevention program across grades Pre K through 12. A decision to advance the health services offered by the school district is partially due to the recent rash in suicides on the East End, in which three teens have killed themselves in the past three years.
Consultant Marian Cassata updated the board on a recently performed needs assessment based on gaps identified in the current health services, and revealed that a comprehensive education program that extends throughout the grades would be the most effective means of delivering a consistent and effective health curriculum. Cassata also stressed that drug and alcohol prevention not be bifurcated from issues of mental health.
“In our community the suicide taboo has been broken and research shows that when that happens things can escalate,” said Cassata, who added that alcohol abuse has been shown to directly correlate with suicide rates.
Cassata identified a plan for primary intervention, a plan for crisis, intermediate and early intervention and a plan for parental involvement as all being necessary for a successful health program for the Sag Harbor School District. In order to fulfill this structure of support, Cassata advocated for the adoption of the curriculum program HealthSmart, a not-for-profit organization that offers comprehensive health curriculum that addresses risky behaviors in youth and lays the foundation for healthy behaviors.
“It’s very user friendly a consistent with the teaching content that we already have in place,” Cassata explained.
The materials for HealthSmart are estimated to cost in excess of $13,000, with a price of $400 per kit for each classroom. Cassata has already worked to secure grant money in order to fund the program.
“We have been able to bring in a program and a great deal of material that otherwise would have been very costly,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, the interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District. Dr. Bonuso added that the administration is fully supportive of pursing the new curriculum.
Alongside HealthSmart, Cassata also recommended that grades six and 12 be supplemented with the Life Skills Training program, a research-validated substance abuse prevention program.
Board member Chris Tice raised the issue of how staff development would be covered under the implementation of the new program, and Cassata shared that training for HealthSmart would also be covered under the grant money.
“The trainers will come initially to launch the program and they will be available to us any time that the faculty want more training,” said Cassata. “The only cost would be for subs, but there is not cost for the staff developer to come.”
Staff development for the Life Skills program, though not covered under the same grant as HealthSmart, has also been accounted for in the form of three secured slots for training that have been prepaid. Additional training spots can be budgeted accordingly.
Along with productive staff training, Cassata underscored the importance of enhanced communication and interaction with parents and families.
“Parental involvement is key in every strand,” said Cassata. “Certainly we want to engage parents, identify concerns, inform them about the curriculum and seek their counsel about other ways they can be helped to support their families.”
Board members were largely in support of the initiative.
“This is much more comprehensive than I think the district has had in a very long time,” said board member Chris Tice.
Board member Daniel Hartnett called for increased advocacy.
“Suicide has become a piece in the tool belt for young people in terms of how they cope with their problems,” said Hartnett. “At the same time that suicide has increased here for our young people, services have decreased. The towns and villages have made concerted budgetary decisions, but we have a crisis with our young people.”
Cassata emphasized that communication with external resources would be a priority for the district’s health programs. A positive relationship with outside health services will enable the district to follow up on the progress of students who have been identified as requiring intervention and subsequently referred for independent help.
Board member Mary Anne Miller suggested the addition of small group workshops for a select number of students who are struggling, and Cassata agreed that those types of specific services would be essential to helping children before they reach levels of required intervention. Talk of adding a newcomers group and a group for children whose parents have separated are already in the works.
“This gives us cohesive consistent information so the children are hearing the message in an age appropriate fashion throughout the years,” said Cassata, who explained to board members that mechanisms for measuring the impact of the programs are built into the systems. “And that’s one of the reason these programs work,”