Four Rivers one of 35 schools to participate in mental health pilot program

  • From left, Four Rivers Charter Public School seniors Skylar Craig, Hailey Weller and Hanah Haughey participated in the teen mental health first aid focus group last year. This yeah, the junior class will participate in the mental health first aid pilot program. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • Bill Fogel, school psychologist and teen mental health first aid instructor at Four Rivers Charter Public School, speaks with a group of seniors about the program, which the junior class will pilot beginning in December. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • Four Rivers Charter Public School student Hanah Haughey looks at a mental health packet, which will be used by juniors at the school to learn about mental health first aid. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2019 5:59:41 PM

GREENFIELD — Starting in December, juniors at Four Rivers Charter Public School will learn about mental illnesses and addictions by participating in the country’s teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) pilot program.

In a partnership with the Collaborative for Educational Services, Four Rivers was one of 35 schools selected to participate in the pilot program by the National Council for Behavioral Health with support from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, according to a Four Rivers press release.

The tMHFA, an idea that originated in Australia and is being adapted, is an in-person training designed for high school students to learn about mental illnesses and addictions. Similar to CPR, students learn a five-step action plan to help friends who may be facing a mental health problem or crisis, such as suicide.

The course specifically highlights the important step of involving a responsible and trusted adult. To ensure additional support for students taking the training, Four Rivers has also trained eight school staff in mental health first aid.

“This is such an exciting and well-deserved opportunity for our students,” said Bill Fogel, school psychologist and teen mental health first aid instructor at Four Rivers. “Last year, a small group of Four Rivers students participated as a focus group to help develop the tMHFA training manual, and now they will be able to see the results of their efforts. In addition, we will be offering further MHFA training to both staff and parents.”

Fogel said the program will teach students how to identify mental health problems, when to get help and how to maintain their relationships with friends who are struggling.

“A lot of reasons we teach this to teens is because teens and young folks go to their friends first,” he said.

Members of the focus group — then juniors who are now seniors — said it was important for them to know about mental illnesses and how to help their peers.

Four Rivers senior Skylar Craig said there is an ideal situation of what people would like to happen, and then what does happen.

“Teaching us prepares us for the reality, which is intense and quick, where people go to their friends before their parents,” Craig said. “By teaching us how to help our peers, it’s like a demo of what they’ll end up telling an adult.”

Fellow senior Zaroma Bryan said that while it can be nerve-wracking to talk to a parent, it can be easier to talk to a friend.

“It’s hard to tell the people that gave you life that you don’t want it anymore, or other conversations that can be uncomfortable,” Bryan said. “They’d go into more detail with their friends, too. That’s why it’s important to educate students.”

Four Rivers Principal and Head of School Peter Garbus said the school pays attention to the mental health of its students, but the pilot will see that attention expand, allowing peers to look out for one another, too.

“We know that the students’ ability to learn is impacted by their mental health,” Garbus said. “If they don’t feel well inside, then they aren’t ready to learn.”

The pilot program is being evaluated by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to assess its effectiveness. The training will be made available to the public following analysis, and Four Rivers will also share the results with other schools in the area.

Reach Melina Bourdeau at 413-772-0261, ext. 263 or

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