HMSOM Human Dimension Hosts NJ Superintendents, Principals to ‘Support Our Schools,’ Students Mental Health   

HMSOM Human Dimension Hosts NJ Superintendents, Principals to ‘Support Our Schools,’ Students Mental Health

Support Our Schools Summit

The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine (HMSOM) along with the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (NJAAP) hosted a groundbreaking event on April 11: “The Social Determinants of Learning Summit: Advancing Systemic Solutions for K-12 Well-Being.”

The summit marks the beginning of an initiative aimed at convening system leaders to comprehensively understand the factors influencing well-being and to empower them to pioneer innovative systemic solutions.

HMSOM has been committed to helping identify and respond to community needs since its inception in 2018. The Human Dimension program within HMSOM is a unique curriculum that fosters teamwork and a humanistic focus on community wellness. Medical students learn about the upstream factors that impact a person’s well-being and the importance of advocacy and community engagement. Naturally, the Human Dimension’s Support our Schools (SOS) program was launched in 2020 at the start of the pandemic as a way of helping connect Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH)’s clinical expertise to school districts navigating COVID 19 guidelines.

This partnership between the HMSOM and over 130 schools has continued to grow. As the pandemic wound down, the urgency of addressing the mental health crisis among our youth came to the foreground. As a result, the SOS program shifted its focus to mental health and well-being.

The summit on April 11 brought together school leaders from across the state at the School of Medicine. It included:

  • An inspiring keynote address from Dr. Gemar Mills. Dr. Mills is an author, an educator, and the current Chief Academic Officer at College Achieve Public Schools, a network of public charter schools in New Jersey. He has demonstrated success in inspiring children and educators in urban settings. Early in his career, he successfully transformed Malcolm X Shabazz HS from a failing school to top performer. His work with The Future Project focused on helping young people navigate today’s challenges with the support of life coaches or “Dream Directors.” His Dream Directors encourage children to follow a passion, explore possibility, and know their worth. Through what Dr. Mills called “The Science of Possibility,” students beam with pride and inner motivation. He shared how his current work in College Achieve Public Schools incorporates these foundations of social emotional learning, to create a culture of possibility and nurture students' dreams with impressive outcomes.
  • A rich panel discussion, “Innovations Addressing Determinants of Learning,” featuring Dr. David Fuentes, Associate Dean in the College of Education at William Paterson University and co-director for the Center for Teaching Excellence; Dr. JoAnn Cardillo, Director of Youth Education at Oasis: A Haven for Women and Children; and Ms. Jenna Goodreau, Director of Full Service Community Schools in Paterson Public Schools. The panelists spoke about the challenges and gaps in access many students face, and the call for educators to help students meet these basic needs in order to successfully engage in the educational process. Dr. Fuentes shared William Paterson’s efforts to support high school students interested in education and create a diverse pipeline through mentorship, college credits, and teaching opportunities in their Aspiring Educators Program. Dr. Cardillo shared her experiences across a career in education, noting that connection and communication are critical for parents and children. In her current role at Oasis, she has created a newsletter for staff to champion innovative programs that lead to positive student outcomes and maintains creative momentum. Ms. Goodreau gave a background on full service schools and the creative approaches they are able to take to support students, from school based health clinics to parent career support. Notably, she spoke about Paterson’s installation of washers and dryers after a needs assessment showed this would reduce school absenteeism.
  • Workshop presentations on Building Social-Emotional Learning Teams, Suicide Prevention, Anxiety, Staff Resiliency and Wellness, and Social Media.

The day was filled with robust discussions and connections amongst school leaders and HMH programs. The SOS program will continue throughout the year with virtual zoom workshops.

“This collaboration is helping us learn more about the systemic challenges school districts face and think critically about how we can impact the upstream causes,” said Carmela Rocchetti, M.D., Assistant Dean of Community Engaged Medical Education. “We are grateful to our community partners for collaborating with us to discuss impactful ways to support our youth.”

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