The Public School System’s Mental Health Program, called Project Haligi Aware, brought its message of mental health awareness to Rota last Monday, March 8, 2021, in a professional development training for Sinapalo Elementary School and Rota Head Start’s teachers and staff.
The training, called titled “Mental Health Matters,” was intended to highlight the importance of mental health. Haligi Aware continues to promote mental health advocacy and efficient self-care strategies, coping skills, and stress management through a variety of services, including the professional growth of educators.
“We appreciate the team making time to come out to Rota and having this mental health workshop offered to us,” said Sinapalo Elementary School principal Daisy Quitugua. “This brought the teachers and staff back to feeling like a complete person again. Knowing that we are two weeks away from the first anniversary of COVID-19 is even more important to learn these strategies and make things feel a little easier. Taking a mindful minute and practicing mindful exercises can help us re-align and be one with ourselves again.”
Haligi Aware staff also met with Board of Education vice chair Herman Atalig, who represents Rota on the BOE. “With all the things happening in the world, we need to focus on our students’ mental health,” said Atalig. “Another concern is to make sure our teachers and staff are in good mental health to provide care to our students and support their emotional needs. Project Haligi Aware will mean a lot to our kids and do a lot for our community. They are our front-liners and crisis action response team for mental health.”
Haligi Aware also had the opportunity to meet with Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig, who said, “I am so happy that these types of services are offered to the people of the CNMI. The pandemic and typhoons are stressful for us. It is good that we are recognizing the need and offering these services to our community. We need to encourage our kids to take advantage of the services offered because they are our future. We need to show our kids that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. By simply starting the conversation, we can make our kids feel like they are supported and that we are here to help.”
Haligi Aware prepares PSS teachers and administrative staff to recognize and respond to behavioral health and mental health issues among students. The program’s ultimate goal is to be able to give students immediate on-site response and referral.
Haligi Aware is designed to support all students throughout the CNMI and help those who experience hopelessness and depression and work toward resilience/strength. “We want to work with our school teachers, counselors, and staff because everyone has experienced some sort of trauma in their lives,” said program director Dr. Yvonne R. Pangelinan. “If we don’t provide the support our teachers and staff require, how do we expect them to be the supportive individual our students need? Our people have built a legacy of strength and we want to continue that. Being strong does not mean that we do not feel stressed or that we do not feel anxious; we are strong because we know how to reach out and ask for help.”
Haligi Aware will implement behavioral health methods that help give access to reliable services within the school and community. Dr. Jennifer Maratita, licensed mental health specialist, said, “There has been an increase in mental health referral services. Students are showing higher rates of depression and suicide ideation. Haligi Aware helps us give the community resources and our students the ability to receive specialized treatment in a safe environment. Research shows that our students are likely to be more successful in getting the treatment they need for depression in the school setting.”
Program co-director Dr. Bobby Cruz said the conversation about mental health should be changed in order to create thriving and healthy communities, tearing down the stigma that prevents people from getting the necessary help that they need. “We want people to say that they need help and know who to go to for support. This is particularly important as we strive to ensure that our students achieve academic success and overall emotional wellness,” he said.
Haligi Aware supports the PSS goal of providing a safe and caring learning environment that supports all students’ behavioral health and academic achievement. “Haligi” is the Chamorro term for the pillar of the latte stone, and like the haligi, we are here to support you.
In the months to follow, Haligi Aware will continue to provide a multi-tiered system of support for the optimal mental wellness of PSS students, teachers and community.
If you or someone that you care for needs immediate support, call:
• PSS Student and Support Services at 664-3822. Office hours are from 7:30am – 4:30pm, Monday to Friday.
• Systems of Care at 664-4604. Office hours are from 7:30am – 4:30pm, Monday to Friday.
• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-8255 which provides counseling and support 24 hours a day.
• If it is an emergency, call 911 or go to the CHCC Emergency Room. (PR)