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“Another Erick” Comes Alive After Support of School-Based Therapy

By Henry Street Settlement

Erick Lopez with his mom in the playground outside his school

“With Miss Sofia, he opens up, and she calms him down,” says Diana De Leon, pictured with her son Erick Lopez.  

Erick Lopez gets excited talking about the things he’s made with “Miss Sofia” while at P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side. As the nine-year-old describes making DIY stress balls and gooey slime, Sofia prompts him, “Do you remember what we talked about while we made those? It starts with the word, ‘mind’…”

“Mindfulness!” he remembers. Miss Sofia is not a teacher; she’s a therapist. And these hands-on activities double as therapeutic interventions.

Sofia Schachner is a bilingual therapist with Henry Street Settlement’s School-Based Mental Health Clinic. The school-based team—serving 233 youth and their families in 2023—removes barriers to mental health care by providing it onsite in nine local schools. The team addresses all types of trauma that affect students, including homelessness, grief, divorce, and bullying.

Erick Lopez gets a hug from Sofia Schachner

Erick Lopez gets a hug from Sofia Schachner, one of 10 Henry Street School-Based Mental Health Clinic social workers.

Support outside the classroom is critical to students like Erick, especially after the uncertainty of the pandemic. “The kids rely on us—mental health providers and other adults—to ground them when they don’t know what to do,” says Sofia, one of 10 social workers in the program.

“Last year, they used to call me every day: ‘Erick got into a fight,’” remembers Diana De Leon, Erick’s mother.
“But with Miss Sofia, he opens up, and she calms him down. Being consistent with Miss Sofia, he’s another boy, he’s another Erick.”

478 young people received counseling through school-based mental health, community schools, and the Youth Opportunity Hub in Fiscal Year 2023

Sofia has leaned into Erick’s creativity and kindness, making up games in their therapy sessions. School-Based Mental Health Program Director Kelly Lennon-Martucci says that establishing trust with a child is crucial to the process. “Kids are often referred to therapy not on their own terms. To reach them developmentally requires using their language, like art, movement, playfulness, and metaphors.”

Kelly has seen more signs of anxiety and depression in elementary-aged children over the past two years. In turn, she says, there is also more awareness in schools that behavioral changes may be signs of something deeper.

A mother of four, Diana says that Sofia has given her many tips to support the emotional wellbeing of all her children. “When they’re fighting. I take them outside, and we talk about it. Sofia told me they each need their own space, because they need to know, ‘You’re my mom.’”

Ambassadors for Mental Health Care

Seven years ago, another Lower East Side mom, Jennie White, sought the school-based team during a challenging time for her family. The children received therapy in their elementary schools from 2016 to 2021, and the results are still paying off for their family and the community.

Today, Ariana and Anthony are thriving in high school and using the therapeutic tools they learned in adolescence. The program has had such an impact that Ariana is an ambassador for mental health at her high school and has been working with NYU teaching fellows at the school on a mental health study. “To see them as reassured teenagers…that is just amazing. They see a future for themselves,” Jennie says.

For Jennie, who grew up in foster care and experienced the trauma of poverty and abuse, the experience has also had a lasting effect. She now works as a coach and classroom facilitator for parents with neurodivergent children. Jennie recently graduated from college and is beginning a master’s program in public administration with the goal to help create more organizations like Henry Street in neighborhoods and schools.

Jennie White wraps her arms around her two children in a neighborhood park

Jennie White’s family—former School-Based Mental Health participants—are now promoting mental health in the community.

Click to learn more about Henry Street’s School-Based Mental Health Clinic and meet the team.

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