SOUTH ORANGE/MAPLEWOOD, NJ — South Orange–Maplewood Board of Education student representative Noah Morros has called on the BOE to hire another social worker at Columbia High School, citing the number of struggling students mental health, especially in the wake of the death of second Cole Longworth in late March. At the April 18 meeting, Morros thanked CHS Principal Frank Sanchez and Guidance Director Falynn Balassone for their response.
“Cole was a very successful student and a friend to many, who were deeply affected by his passing,” Morros said. “I wanted to thank Ms. Balassone and Principal Sanchez for their quick and compassionate response to the students’ bereavement. They brought in professional social workers, optimizing our guidance counselors, and bringing in therapy dogs and bunnies for students to bond with.
Those looking to remember Longworth and share their condolences can visit https://remembr.com/cole.longworth.
Morros said he and fellow BOE student representative Vanessa Previlon have worked with Balassone to expand counseling resources and improve student outreach so their peers know what resources are available. According to Morros, their strategy includes social media and email outreach.
“Although our guidance service is well equipped, the need for another social worker has been strongly expressed,” he said. “Right now we have social work interns and a social worker to help students manage their mental health in a multi-week program. These programs were full throughout the year. Students who need help with their mental health have been turned away from these services due to lack of space. This is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed not only quickly, but also completely. We must continue to build on the mental health resources available to our students, and not just at Columbia, but across the District. »
Morros and Previlon plan to work on their outreach plan with Balassone in other schools in the district this year, working with each school’s guidance services.
Superintendent Ronald Taylor opened his report at the meeting with a moment of silence for Longworth. Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis did the same at the April 5 city committee meeting.
“We continue to send our prayers and support to family, friends and loved ones who are undoubtedly still dealing with this untold tragedy,” Taylor said at the BOE meeting.
Mental health support and programming was also a topic of conversation at the March 21 meeting, with BOE member Elissa Malespina requesting additional funding in the 2022-23 district budget for social-emotional support for students. .
“We have to think about getting more resources and do what we can to help these children who are suffering tremendously right now,” Malespina said at the March 21 meeting.
Curriculum director Ann Bodnar said funds will be made available for social-emotional learning, but the district does not yet know what it will be used for. Taylor said he wants to see more of the planned spring programs come to fruition before adding more.