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Governor McKee, Rhode Island Department of Education Launch “Let It Out” Mental Health Awareness Campaign

Awareness campaign aimed at connecting students with trusted members of their school communities and support services has already made an impact in three urban communities 

Pawtucket, RI - Governor Dan McKee and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green today joined school and community leaders at Pawtucket’s Nathanael Greene Elementary School to launch “Let It Out”, a robust 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. The “Let It Out” website launched as part of the campaign showcases familiar faces in school communities that students can confide in and features classroom activities, educator toolkits, and other informational materials and resources to help students cope with mental health challenges.

“The mental health of young people has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Dan McKee. “Right now, we have an opportunity to step up and provide students with the support they need. The ‘Let It Out’ initiative is a critical link for our students to these important services and supportive school community members.”

In Rhode Island, one in five (19%) children ages 6-17 has a diagnosable mental health condition and one in 10 (10%) has a significant functional impairment. The collective challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have elevated stressors and exacerbated mental health concerns statewide.

“Studies show that anywhere between 50 to 80% of students who could benefit from mental health services don’t receive them,” said Lt. Governor Sabina Matos. “Awareness matters, and so do early detection and intervention strategies that can help foster resiliency in a student’s life. The ‘Let It Out’ campaign provides an essential forum to start talking about these very important health issues.”

“Students cannot perform at their best unless they are in a safe and supportive environment,” Commissioner Infante-Green said. “To improve school culture and student outcomes in the wake of the pandemic, we must talk about mental health issues with students, help them cope, and equip educators with tools and training they need. With the ‘Let It Out’ campaign, we are taking an important step to improve social-emotional and academic supports for our students.”

“‘Let It Out,’ although simply stated, represents a much larger Integrated Tiered System of Support for our children and families across sectors and bodies of work. Alone no agency can meet the ever-changing needs across our state, we are stronger together,” said Pawtucket Superintendent Dr. Cheryl McWilliams. “I am proud to be leading the Pawtucket School Department in integrating and unifying our local system as an innovator in partnerships and service provision for Youth Mental and Behavioral Health.”

"Increasing awareness of mental health matters and addressing those in school age children is so important and I am grateful for Pawtucket to be a part of this program,” said Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien. “The ‘Let It Out’ initiative will provide our students with the ability to understand more about mental health and continue to support them as they strive to get the most out of their education possible.”

The ‘Let It Out’ initiative builds upon goals of Project AWARE RI (Achieving Wellness and Resilience in Education). With assistance from the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth & Families, Project AWARE is improving and expanding mental and behavioral health services in three pilot districts: Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket, over the span of five years (2018-2023).

“As a former guidance counselor, principal and superintendent, I know how crucial it is to foster nurturing relationships in and out of the classroom so that our students can thrive,” said Patricia DiCenso, Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. “After an incredibly challenging two years, we must continue to take a proactive role in caring for students’ mental health and ‘Let It Out’ does just that.” 

A Pawtucket educator shared her experience with ‘Let It Out’ at the launch event. Jacqueline K. Walsh School for the Arts senior Dylana Deignan served as emcee. 

“The ‘Let It Out’ campaign will give a voice to someone who may have been afraid or unsure about mental health challenges they are facing. These are hard conversations and having someone who is supportive can make a difference,” said Special Education Evaluation Team Leader Salvina Guarnieri. “Like many of my colleagues, I am prepared to provide immediate and appropriate support to students and connect them with the right people in the right way.

“It has been an honor for Bradley Hospital to partner with our educators as we break the stigma of talking about our feelings. It takes courage to let it out,” said Dr. Margaret Paccione, Director of Clinical Innovation at Bradley Hospital. “Find an adult that you trust and start the difficult conversations—anxiety, depression, sexual concerns, suicidal thoughts, academic worries. Let’s break the stigma of mental health concerns together.” 

As part of Rhode Island’s continued commitment to better serving the mental health needs of school communities, a second $9 million federal grant launched RI Project AWARE's second cohort including Cranston, West Warwick and Westerly.

What They’re Saying:

“The mental health of young people has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Children are suffering in our communities from stress, depression, and serious mental health challenges, and they need our help. The ‘Let It Out’ initiative is a critical link for our students to these important services and supportive school community members.” -- Governor Dan McKee

“Studies show that anywhere between 50 to 80% of students who could benefit from mental health services don’t receive them. Awareness matters, and so do early detection and intervention strategies that can help foster resiliency in a student’s life. The ‘Let It Out’ campaign provides an essential forum to start talking about these very important health issues.” -- Lt. Governor Sabina Matos

"Increasing awareness of mental health matters and addressing those in school age children is so important and I am grateful for Pawtucket to be a part of this program. The ‘Let It Out’ initiative will provide our students with the ability to understand more about mental health and continue to support them as they strive to get the most out of their education possible.” -- Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien

“Students cannot perform at their best unless they are in a safe and supportive environment. To improve school culture and student outcomes in the wake of the pandemic, we must talk about mental health issues with students, help them cope, and equip educators with tools and training they need. With the ‘Let It Out’ campaign, we are taking an important step to improve social-emotional and academic supports for our students.” -- Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green

“‘Let It Out,’ although simply stated, represents a much larger Integrated Tiered System of Support for our children and families across sectors and bodies of work. Alone no agency can meet the ever-changing needs across our state, we are stronger together. I am proud to be leading the Pawtucket School Department in integrating and unifying our local system as an innovator in partnerships and service provision for Youth Mental and Behavioral Health.”  -- Pawtucket Superintendent Dr. Cheryl McWilliams

“As a former guidance counselor, principal and superintendent, I know how crucial it is to foster nurturing relationships in and out of the classroom so that our students can thrive. After an incredibly challenging two years, we must continue to take a proactive role in caring for students’ mental health and ‘Let It Out’ does just that.”  -- Patricia DiCenso, Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education

“The ‘Let It Out’ campaign will give a voice to someone who may have been afraid or unsure about mental health challenges they are facing. These are hard conversations and having someone who is supportive can make a difference. Like many of my colleagues, I am prepared to provide immediate and appropriate support to students and connect them with the right people in the right way.”  -- Special Education Evaluation Team Leader Salvina Guarnieri

“It has been an honor for Bradley Hospital to partner with our educators as we break the stigma of talking about our feelings. It takes courage to let it out. Find an adult that you trust and start the difficult conversations—anxiety, depression, sexual concerns, suicidal thoughts, academic worries. Let’s break the stigma of mental health concerns together.”  -- Dr. Margaret Paccione, Director of Clinical Innovation at Bradley Hospital

“This campaign raises awareness on the importance of mental health including strategies to manage challenges; it also celebrates the critical role of school staff in supporting the social, emotional and mental health of our youth.” -- Rosemary Reilly-Chammat, Ed.D., RIDE School Health Policy and Program Specialist

“It is through the collective efforts of aligning the priorities and needs across our local agency that we have truly blended to become an Office of Teaching and Learning focused on the holistic model for children across sixteen campuses. Only when academic, social emotional, and behavioral components are viewed in tandem are we best providing service to our students. We do this through an integrated tiered system of support that provides ongoing services with the whole child at the center.” -- Chief Officer of Teaching and Learning, Sarah Courtemanche and LEA lead for the Pawtucket School Department

“The Woonsocket Education Department is eager to share the Let It Out campaign resources with our community. Let It Out provides timely messages which will resonate with the members of our community. And we are excited to see familiar faces, Woonsocket teachers, counselors and administrators, who serve as a touchstone for our students every day. By offering encouraging words, greeting students by name, modeling and teaching social emotional skills they are our champions.” -- Gigi DiBello, Project AWARE Coordinator

"In Pawtucket, education and health professionals have recognized the impact that a student's mental health has on learning and achievement, and they realize that there's a great deal that can be done to help students with mental health issues. Thanks to the commitment of Governor Dan McKee, Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and the rest of the community, "Let It Out" will remind ourselves and others to be more open about mental health." -- Pawtucket School Committee Member Roberto Moreno