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Greece Athena High School pilots a counseling app for student mental wellness

The Greece Central School District is rolling out a pilot program to see if a phone app could improve student mental health.

Starting in May, students and staff at Greece Athena High School can use an app called Counslr to text message with licensed mental health professionals around the clock, except in school, where cellphone use has been barred since the beginning of this school year.

Students and staff at Greece Athena High School have tested out the app during exam season, which has covered the past three weeks.

“It's basically like we've taken a clinical mental health provider and put them in the app for them to see versus having to drive downtown to a clinic to get to see a mental health therapist,” said Christine Baker, director of student services and school improvement at Greece Central School District. She helped greenlight and implement the initiative at Athena High School.

Baker said it won’t replace school counselors or social workers, nor will it take the place of professional or crisis services. But it could help students navigate daily struggles, build social skills and self-awareness — even over summer break, she said.

“We're trying to address areas where we see students need access to more support, but also build up their skills,” Baker said. “So this was an area where we thought we were filling a void, because there are so many long wait times to get access to a clinician, or barriers to figure out how to even go about the right fit. So this really took a lot of the barriers out.”

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The pilot costs $10,000 and will continue through August. Depending on how it goes, Baker said it could expand to other schools in the district.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.