PSS offers mental health program

Posted on Feb 15 2021


The CNMI Public School System has launched a new program to encourage students, families, and staff to avail free mental health referral services.

Called Project Healthy, Affirming, Locally-Inclusive Grant Initiative for Advancing Awareness and Resilience in Education, or HALIGI AWARE, this new program under the Office of Student & Support Services promotes mental health awareness not only at the school level but at the community level.

“The mental wellness of our students and faculty is a priority and in order to produce thriving learners we need to pay careful attention to their mental wellness,” said Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada.

The program aims to increase awareness and increase access to mental care by establishing preventative layers of a multi-tiered system:

• Tier 1 is a universal approach where HALIGI AWARE generally wants to create a safe environment to promote healthy and successful students.

• Tier 2 is a targeted approach where HALIGI AWARE staff identifies students and staff at risk and places them in small groups of a specialized mental health program led by a mental health professional.

• Tier 3 is where intensive support is provided specifically to the individual’s needs and referred to community mental health partners for additional support.

The program is designed to support students in all 20 schools in the CNMI to help those who experience hopelessness, depression, and work toward resilience/strength.

In the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 48% of PSS students indicated that they experience these alarming emotions and 29% seriously considered attempting suicide. HALIGI AWARE strives to strengthen the mental wellbeing of students and create a positive environment by connecting home and community to schools.

“With over 10,000 students in PSS, our counselors and mental health professionals are the guardians of our students’ academic success, social and emotional well-being,” said program director Dr. Boni Pangelinan. “A goal of HALIGI AWARE is to equip every school with the American School Counselor Association recommended ratio of school counselors to students be 1:250, compared to the current PSS average ratio of 1:323.”

An added HALIGI AWARE goal is a system-wide enhancement establishing school-based behavioral and mental health services for our students and families. HALIGI AWARE staff will also implement behavioral health methods that help give access to reliable services within the school and community.

According to a PSS statement last Friday, it said that HALIGI AWARE prepares teachers and administrative staff to recognize and respond to behavioral health and mental health issues among students. Establishing this would give students immediate on-site response and referral. HALIGI AWARE aims to strengthen its presence in the community by conducting accessible outreaches to engage with students and their families. Accomplishing this goal would create a positive environment for students both in school and the community.

“Furthermore, HALIGI AWARE is geared to center our students and help them be in control of their mental wellness and be able to assist their peers to do the same,” said the PSS statement.

It quoted PSS Board of Education chair Andrew L. Orsini as saying, “Our children’s minds cannot concentrate on school if they’re busy concentrating on something else. By caring about a child’s mental health, we are also molding their ability to attain knowledge and skills they can apply their whole lives. Our counselors and mental health professionals are vital to our students and community for they have the ability to shape the heart and mind.”

“HALIGI AWARE supports the CNMI PSS goal of providing a safe and caring learning environment that supports behavioral health and academic achievement of all students. “Haligi” is the Chamorro term for the pillar of the latte stone, and like the haligi, we are here to support you,” the statement added.

If you or someone that you care for needs immediate support, call:

• PSS Student and Support Services at 664-3822. Office hours are from 7:30-4:30pm, Monday through Friday.

• Systems of Care at 664-4604. Office hours are from 7:30-4:30pm, Monday through 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)

Press Release
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