The Ken Burns documentary “Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness” served as the catalyst for conversation on March 10, as more than 150 area educators convened on the Broome-Tioga BOCES campus for a day-long seminar. The event was a collaboration between BOCES and the component school districts, Binghamton University and WSKG.
According to Sara Fontana, administrator for the Community Schools, which is a service available to B-T BOCES component districts, the event was broken into morning and afternoon sessions. The morning focused on the first part of the Burns documentary, titled, “The Storm.” The afternoon session centered on the second piece of the documentary, “Resilience.”
“The pandemic accentuated the need for schools and communities to partner to meet the needs of the whole child/family,” said Melissa Woodruff, director for Learning & Continuous Improvement at B-T BOCES. “Community Schools systematically align needs to agencies that support health care in schools.”
Fontana said the crux of the event was to help raise awareness of the mounting crisis our young people face and to help foster conversations around how we can create engagement opportunities that truly connect, invigorate, and inspire support for our young people and the schools that serve them. She said that the BOCES Community Schools service is a pivotal tool in an arsenal against mental health obstacles for youth. The program began in July 2022. Ten individuals are currently in Community Schools roles at four area school districts – Union-Endicott, Windsor, Binghamton, and Chenango Valley.
“Community Schools is a strategy meant to help support the whole child,” Fontana said. “The idea is to remove barriers a student or family may experience that may keep a child from coming to school every day. A Community Schools coordinator can help the family get connected to community agencies and resources to assist the family.”
The Burns documentary spurred Friday’s conversation. After the second episode, attendees took a brief break, collected their thoughts, then concluded the seminar with a one-hour panel discussion. The panel was comprised of regional educational and mental health professionals.
“Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness” features first-person accounts from more than 20 young people, ranging in age from 11 to 27 years old, who live with mental health conditions, as well as parents, teachers, friends, health care providers in their lives, and independent mental health experts. The film presented an unvarnished window into daily life with mental health challenges from seemingly insurmountable obstacles to stories of hope and resilience. Through the experiences of these young people, the film confronts the issues of stigma, discrimination, awareness and silence, and, in doing so, helps advance a shift in the public perception of mental health today.
“The event gives our region’s educators, mental health teams, leaders, and nurses an opportunity to learn, share, reflect on and refine our practice with youth that struggle with mental health,” Fontana said. “Watching the documentary together and having the space to share our struggles, as well as our successes, is a tremendous opportunity.
“The world can be a tough place for our kids to navigate,” she said, “and we want to wrap as much love and support around them as we can.”