Federal, State, and School Leaders Highlight National Children's Mental Health Day at Garden City Elementary School

Published on Thursday, May 09, 2024

CRANSTON, RI -- Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Deputy Commissioner Lisa Odom-Villella, Director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) Director Richard Leclerc, Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) Director Ashley Deckert, Cranston Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse, and Principal Bryan Byerlee today welcomed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon to Garden City Elementary School to spotlight National Children’s Mental Health Day. As a vital component of National Mental Health Awareness Month, this special day aims to destigmatize conversations surrounding children's mental health and promote access to resources and support systems for children, families and caregivers.  

As part of the visit, first and second grade students gave a presentation on schoolwide efforts around inclusion and belonging following a tour of the school highlighting the school’s wellness features and spaces led by fourth and fifth grade ambassadors. Garden City was also recently awarded a Green Ribbon award from the U.S. Department of Education for their success in reducing environmental impact and costs, improving health and wellness of students and staff, and providing effective sustainability education. 

An agency within the HHS, SAMHSA leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. For more than 20 years, SAMHSA has recognized Children’s Mental Health Day as part of Mental Health Awareness Month to bring attention to the mental health needs of children and young people.  

“Children’s Mental Health Day was started by SAMHSA nearly two decades ago to raise awareness about the mental health needs of children and young people. With the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the mental health crisis that followed, there is now a more broad understanding and concern for mental health issues and how they can affect children, even though many of these issues were present prior to the pandemic,” said Assistant Secretary Delphin-Rittmon. “SAMHSA is responding to the mental health needs of young people with a public health approach – from early childhood to young adulthood – that focuses on promotion, prevention, treatment, and recovery.”  

“By prioritizing early intervention, education, and community support, Rhode Island is laying the groundwork for a healthier, more resilient society,” said Governor Dan McKee. “I extend my gratitude to SAMHSA, RIDE, our community partners, and all of Rhode Island’s educators and support staff working daily to promote the wellbeing of Rhode Island children. Thank you for your compassion, strength, and dedication to building a brighter future for our state.” 

Through strategic partnerships and initiatives, RIDE and SAMHSA work closely to promote mental health awareness, prevention, and intervention within Rhode Island's educational system. Since 2018, RIDE has sought and received more than $50 million in competitive grant funding, including three Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education) grants from SAMHSA. Nationwide, SAMHSA will invest more than $550 million this fiscal year (FY 2024) to support children’s mental health through numerous grant programs, including more than $110 million for Project AWARE. 

The goal of Project AWARE is to provide professional development opportunities to increase mental health literacy as well as support and guidance to connect schools and communities with appropriate resources. The grants have enabled RIDE to support 10 school districts, including Cranston, in assessing their current capacity and directing resources to continue building systemwide and systemic approaches that benefit the entire community. In 2022, RIDE launched “Let It Out,” a mental health campaign that addresses the needs of students by connecting them with trusted members of their school community and focused mental health services throughout Rhode Island.  

“A strong foundation of mental wellbeing not only enhances academic performance but also equips individuals with the resilience, adaptability, and interpersonal skills crucial for college and career,” said Board of Education Chair Michael Grey. “On this National Children’s Mental Health Day, I encourage us all to continue to have open and honest conversations around the mental health of our kids and work together to ensure all students can thrive.” 

In addition to Project AWARE grants, SAMHSA in 2022 awarded RIDE a four-year, $3.8 million cooperative agreement to increase access to evidence-based, culturally responsive, and sustaining trauma support services and mental health care in schools. In 2020 and 2022, RIDE received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to recruit and retain mental health service providers to further support student wellbeing.  

"As a former school counselor, it heartens me to see the all-hands approach to mental health literacy in Rhode Island and extend my gratitude with SAMHSA, RIDE, and our school communities,” said Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education Patti DiCenso. “By integrating evidence-based practices and programs into schools, we aim to create safe and supportive environments where students can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.” 

“When students are struggling with mental health issues, whether anxiety, depression, or trauma, their capacity to focus, retain information, and participate effectively is significantly hindered. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues, and it is our collective duty to act with urgency,” said Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Angélica Infante-Green. “On behalf of RIDE, I thank SAMHSA, whose partnership has enabled RIDE to build long-term relationships with school staff as they lead this important work in their districts. I also want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Rhode Island’s students for their courage in making it abundantly clear that mental health matters deeply to them. Your voices are powerful catalysts for change, and your willingness to share your experiences and advocate for greater support and understanding around mental wellness is truly inspiring." 

Also in 2023, RIDE announced the $3 million W.E.L.L. (Wellness in Education Leads to Learning) Initiative to support the development of wellness spaces in schools statewide and fund the accompanying professional development. In total, more than 3,000 pieces of wellness furniture have been delivered to 50 local education agencies across the state. 

In its commitment to fostering a positive school climate and supporting student mental health, Garden City Elementary School (GCES) has implemented a range of comprehensive programs, including anti-bullying initiatives and a peer counseling program. A student wrote the slogan, "No more, not here," which now adorns the walls of GCES, and designed wristbands for all students in the school. Garden City also implemented a universal screener for social emotional learning to identify students in need of social emotional support and intervention. Mental health education is integrated into the curriculum, offering students valuable insights and tools for understanding and managing their mental well-being. The school is also actively engaged with families and the broader community through workshops, seminars, and events to enhance awareness and understanding of mental health issues. 

“Cranston Public Schools is pleased to welcome Assistant Secretary Delphin-Rittmon and other officials to Garden City Elementary as we mark National Children’s Mental Health Day,” said Cranston Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse. “As a district, we are committed to meeting the academic and social emotional needs of students so that they can thrive in our schools and beyond. We appreciate that SAMHSA has selected to spotlight the incredible work happening in our school community.” 

“At Garden City Elementary, our mission is to provide all students the opportunity to learn and grow in classrooms that are welcoming and safe, and to promote collaborative conversations, laughter, questioning, and sharing support learning,” said Garden City Elementary School Principal Bryan Byerlee. “We pride ourselves in our work to promote good school culture and meet the individual needs of our students understanding that their health and wellbeing is foundational to their long-term success. We’re excited to be able to showcase the many efforts our educators, support staff, and students to create a positive school environment that is conducive for learning and good mental health.”  

Learn more about these efforts and initiatives around school climate transformation, the School Health Advisory Council, community partnerships, and more on RIDE's School Mental Wellness webpage. 


HHS Asst. Secretary Dr. Miriam Dellphin-Rittmon greets students at Garden City Elementary School on May 9, 2024.
Garden City Elementary School students welcome HHS Secretary Dr. Delphin Rittmon on National Children's Mental Health Day on May 9, 2024.