SAYing and Doing the Right Things in Local Public Schools

Tags: Federation, Teens

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At the beginning of his sophomore year in high school, a local teen began to notice his motivation for school was not as it once was. He knew his grades were slipping because of this change but he could not break the pattern. Fortunately, the Social Advocates for Youth Program (SAY) of Bellefaire JCB, a Federation beneficiary agency, was there for him and so many other teens in crisis.

“The SAY counselor at school would come in during Health class to teach us about mental health. She mentioned she’s also available in school as a counselor if any student needed to talk. But she noticed me and asked if I wanted to talk to her,” said the student.

Bellefaire developed the SAY program more than 20 years ago as a prevention, education, and early intervention program to help middle and high school students minimize risky behavior, make healthy choices, and work through difficulties caused by the tensions of adolescence.

“SAY is currently in seven Cleveland suburban school districts and academic stress is the number one issue we see with students,” said Nancy Schaumburg, LISW-S, SAY coalition coordinator at Bellefaire and a SAY school counselor with the Shaker Heights and Mayfield school districts. “We send a social worker to work one-on-one and in group settings with students to help them engage with one another. Everything we do has a purpose, and that purpose is to build and lead them to a positive path.”

SAY counselors engage with an average of more than 3,000 public school students a year and nearly 5,500 parents at the Beachwood, Chagrin Falls, Cleveland Heights/University Heights, Orange, Mayfield, Shaker Heights, and Solon school districts. Along with meeting with students, the counselors also communicate on a regular basis with the student’s parents to provide updates on their child’s progress. “The SAY counselor was there on the inside, she knew him, she saw him,” said the teen’s mother.

The teen’s father added, “She was there for us as well, she helped us. We’ve seen our son mature and grow over these two years since he began the program. He’s very much aware of what’s out there and how to avoid things.”

At Chagrin Falls High School, Principal Monica Asher has seen their SAY counselor become a more prominent mentor for all of the students. “High schools are competitive, and kids put pressure on themselves which increases their anxiety and depression,” said Asher. “Because of that, there’s a much-needed increase in social and emotional support. The overwhelming benefit in partnering with Bellefaire is the added dynamic of support that we would not be able to fully provide.”

“It's so important to have a safe space for our students to turn – whether they’re facing everyday struggles or trying to adjust to a new stressor,” said Dr. Robert P. Hardis, superintendent of Beachwood School District. “Through the SAY program, our students have a place where they know they will find the support and assistance they need. I’m very grateful that Beachwood City Schools is able to partner with Bellefaire JCB and the SAY Program on this important student service.”

In the past year, seemingly everything changed and the SAY program was no exception. Counselors began to see more students talking about their worries and anxieties surrounding COVID-19 and the pandemic. “We are so lucky because we are still able to meet the students through Zoom,” said Schaumburg. “We’re part of the team at each school system and they’re grateful for us. This is a collaboration – between us and the students, us and the school system, us and the parents.”

And it’s those students who have been able to take the SAY program and the advice they’ve gained to move towards a positive future. “I know I can use what I’ve learned to succeed when I go to college and beyond,” said a student. “I want to take everything to empower myself and others. I’ve taken this program seriously and it’s changed my life.”

For more information on the SAY program, contact Melanie Halvorson at mhalvorson@jcfcleve.org or 216-593-2868. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Bellefaire JCB’s services, please contact the Bellefaire JCB Intake Department at 216-932-2800.

Stories like these are made possible by the generous support of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s annual Campaign.

Learn More: Federation, Teens