Leigh Ann Fossella gives an update on the Academy at Glenfield, a pilot program to help students with mental health needs.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Glenfield Middle School is the home of a pilot counseling program for students.

The Academy at Glenfield started last school year, as an in-house program to help students address issues that they might have with mental health and wellness.

Andrew Evangelista and Leigh Ann Fossella delivered a presentation on the Academy’s progress during the board of education’s Nov. 1 workshop meeting at the George Inness Annex.

As Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak introduced Evangelista and Fossella, she said, “Early days, yet, but I think they’ve accomplished a great deal.”

Evangelista is the district’s mental health coordinator, and Fossella is the social worker assigned to The Academy.

“I kind of grew up in a program that was school-based counseling, and that was about 40 years ago,” Evangelista said.

“I had it in my mind, you know, about 20 years ago here, working in Montclair.”

He met with professionals in the field and other district staff to set about planning the program. “We thought about programs that could really benefit the kids who didn’t have access to services.”

“Really, it’s dealing with the top 1 percent of the kids at Glenfield that have issues, you know, school avoidance and different things of that nature,” Evangelista said.

Other issues that students might be dealing with include ADHD, bullying, anxiety, depression and drug abuse.

The program includes offerings such as art and music therapy, yoga, lunch groups, individual and group counseling, crisis intervention sessions, alcohol and drug counseling for students who require it, and drop-in counseling. There is also a “brag board”: a bulletin board where students can post accomplishments that they are especially proud of.

The Academy also offers family services such as counseling sessions and meetings with parents.

The Academy offices are in a basement area, close to other classrooms and teaching areas that students may need to access during the day, rather than being close to the main office.

The board discussed whether to expand the Academy program to other schools in the district, and how that might be done.

Board member Jevon Caldwell-Gross asked how the Academy worked with families who might be reluctant to enter their children into the program, due to a perceived stigma associated with therapy.

“How have you been careful and intentional about creating the narrative so that children and parents will want to use this resource rather than feeling ostracized?” Caldwell-Gross asked.

“Everything I’ve heard about the program is fantastic,” Jessica de Koninck said. But she reiterated Caldwell-Gross’s point on how to reach parents who may be reluctant to seek counseling because of a perceived stigma.

Evangelista said that each of the families had been shown what to expect during the intake and orientation periods.

“I think one of the biggest pieces is the relationship building,” Fossella said. “So the goal was to engage both the student and the parent in a way that makes them feel comfortable.”

“We had some trials and tribulations, it was supposed to replace the ESS program, Effective School Solutions, and the last effort was to have a pilot program at Glenfield,” Evangelista said.

He said he was pleased by the program’s success so far, and that students were responding well.

“They’re really benefiting from the different initiatives that we’re bringing forward.”