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Students’ emotional health top of mind at “Student Speak Out”

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State Senator Samra Brouk (D-Rochester), Chair of the Mental Health Committee, hosts a virtual town hall "Student Speak Out" on Monday with the assistance of a translator.

Caring for the mental and emotional health of students from grade school to college: that was the buzz at a virtual town hall on Monday.

State Senator Samra Brouk (D-Rochester) hosted the “Student Speak Out” event, which came days after a student at East High School attempted to bring a gun to school.

While teachers and students have undergone active shooter drills for years, Brouk said little action has been taken at the federal level to address gun violence in schools or the effect on students.

“Even when the biggest tragedies are happening inside our schools,” Brouk said. “We've gotten to this point, and when it... hits home, you really have to look at, are we doing enough?”

Isaiah Santiago, a student at Rochester City School District’s School of the Arts, said in general students have been grappling with gun violence in their neighborhoods for years. Two of his friends have been shot and killed, he said.

“Right now, what we're seeing in our community is a lot of young people who are simply hurt, who does not know how to deal with this hurt, but to temporarily satisfy it by getting into the gun violence, by getting into the gangs, by getting into the fights,” Santiago said.

Santiago is spearheading an initiative to get peer mentoring and social-emotional literacy in schools so that students can learn how to identify and respond to emotional distress without resorting to violence.

One of the panelists was Shirley Green, commissioner of recreation and human services with the city of Rochester.

Green said her department is working on getting mental health counselors into rec centers to meet children and teens where they are, where they are more likely to open up to people with whom they have built trusting relationships.

“We know that after school hours, our young people are in the community. They're in our recreation centers.” Green said. “But if they are in crisis, and there's a mental health expert in that rec center, they may make that connection.”

About 140 people attended the event on Monday.