Coping With Student Stress in Greenwich Public Schools

The school district mental health professionals discuss how they help students negotiate stress and anxiety.


Educating the whole child and helping youngsters form positive working relationships are key to the success of students.

That was the theme discussed by a mental health panel comprised of Greenwich Public Schools (GPS) professionals from the elementary, middle and high school level, was sponsored by the Greenwich PTA Council Wellness Committee on Wednesday evening at Greenwich High School. About 50 parents, including Julian Curtiss  parent, Marianna Koushouris, who sparked the idea, came to listen and learn about the services provided by the GPS staff.

We Care

Judith Nedell, a 13-year veteran of GPS and the Guidance Department program coordinator, said, “we are all here because we care about mental health and well being.” She said that not only the mental health professionals have the perspective of “educating the whole child” but that “everyone in (school) buildings has that perspective.”

As an approach, the school staff strives to “form positive working relationships with the students,” explained Nedell. “Our teachers really know our students,” she assured resulting in “safety factors in our favor.” When an issue does occur, she assured that “we run into action to support the child.”  She added, “when there is a difficulty, it is a learning opportunity.” 

Joining Nedell were elementary level school psychologist Lisa Strizver; Nancy McGraw, Hamilton Ave School psychologist; Lora Parisi, a guidance counselor at Western Middle School; Michelle Freidman, a GHS guidance counselor who runs the STARS mentoring program, and GHS social workers Danielle Polizzi and Bill Quinn.

Different Grades, Different Stresses

The panelists shared what they are experiencing in the different grade levels. Strizver and McGraw said that in elementary school the “theme is often problem solving,” which is focused on school anxiety, coping, test taking strategies. Elementary school personnel work together as a team to help children “feel empowered” and become “self advocates.”

In the middle school years, Parisi said the “trend” is “conflict resolution’ and  “appropriate peer relationships.” She revealed that this age group tends to resolve “peer conflicts via text messages and social media rather than in person.”

Not surprisingly, the academic pressure is turned up at the high school level. In addition, the staff makes a concerted effort to minimize the size of GHS. Polizzi explained the approach is to make a “huge place feel like a smaller place.”

Ears, Eyes and Cameras

One process of interest that was discussed at the forum was how students are able to express concern for other students. The panelists explained that the students are addressed through their Wellness class. In addition, all freshmen participate in an all-day workshop co-sponsored by GHS and the Anti-Defamation League  called “Names Can Really Hurt Us.” Click here for more information.

Often times, students do come forward to express concern for a peer whether it be prompted by a posting on Facebook, a text message or simply someone’s behavior. Quinn also revealed “big brother is watching in the high school” from the Student Center and within the classrooms to the “corners of the parking lot.” An “instrument” that is utilized, “risk to violence protocol” is an assessment that Quinn said in the past 5 years, it has been enacted maybe 8 or 9 times.

Live and Let Live Place

Being “connected” to school was a recurrent theme through the evening. It is also a goal that is shared by the GHS staff. GHS Headmaster Chris Winters told Patch, “We see a direct correlation between the amount our students are involved in school and other activates and their performance. In short, students who join clubs, sports, or organizations outside of school tend to be more focused on academic achievement.” To that end, the panel told the parents that the high school is “so large, so diverse” that it is really difficult “not to find a clique, a circle or a club” to be part of. Nedell echoed, “everyone is equally encourage to be themselves.”

Winters summed up the experience available at the high school as “we have something for everyone at GHS. We work daily to get all students involved.”

To watch the forum, click here.       


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