Entire Hamburg school staff trained to recognize signs of mental illness

Jul 19, 2018

The Hamburg Central School District is working to make sure students with mental health issues receive proper care. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says when the new school year begins in September, every staff member in the Hamburg school District will have received mental health first aid training.

Outside the Hamburg Central School District offices on Abbott Road, Hamburg, NY.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"Youth mental health is something we thought we needed to pay attention too. We thought here in Hamburg issue in education that people weren't talking about,” said Michael Cornell, Hamburg Schools Superintendent.

Michael Cornell, Hamburg Schools Superintendent.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Cornell sat at a conference table inside his Abbott Road office explaining plans to provide mental health first aid training was decided about two-years before the massive shooting at the school in Parkland, Florida this past year.

The district applied and was awarded a $75,000 grant from the Tower Foundation to begin the mental health first aid training.

“It was at least two years ago and then there was a year of planning. We had to train our trainers, so we went through that process and then for the last 12 to 15 months we’ve been going about the business of actually training all of our employees,” Cornell explained. “And we were seeing the increase incidents of mental health challenges among our students and we started thinking about how we could help make an impact there because really when you think about it, it is a predicament that the entire country is dealing with.”

When students return to classrooms this fall, all 650-staff members, including bus drivers, should know how to recognize a mental health problem from their first aid training.  

Yellow school bus.
Credit WBFO News file photo

"So bus drivers are Fisher Bus employees and Fisher Bus is a wonderful partner with us. It has been for generations of transporting kids to schools in Hamburg and they made their employees available to us – that we could train them, so all of those folks are trained,” Cornell said. “We’ve got maybe 100 employees left to train. By the time we get to September 1st everybody will be trained.”

With one in five youths suffer from a mental health disorder and one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, the Hamburg staff is working to ensure a student is not alone in facing a mental health crisis.

Outisde Armor Elementary School, Hamburg, NY.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“They’re trying to help us understand some of the warning signs of mental illness and then if we notice something, ask another question or two.  Ask the child – if you get a minute with the child after class or before a class – away from the audience of the rest of the students and just say ‘you know I’ve notice you’ve been a little quiet lately – you’ve been a little withdrawn lately or you always do your homework and for the last three days you haven’t had it’ – you know help me understand why,” Cornell described. 

Hamburg has been named as one of 45-school districts nationwide as a 2018-District of Distinction by District Administration magazine for its innovation in training employees on how to recognize mental health issues in school.