RENSSELAER, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Rensselaer City School District is being recognized by New York State for its mental wellness programs. The district and its Project AWARE program won the 2022 “What’s Great in our State” School/School District Award.

The award honors education systems that recognize the importance of supporting wellness and addressing the mental health needs of its students. The award was presented at the annual “What’s Great in our State 2022” event on May 3.

“The Rensselaer City School District shows us ‘What’s Great in Our State’ through efforts that extend past the school walls,” said New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan. “The Project AWARE program is truly a team effort that allows the district to reach students with critical services inside and outside the classroom. We thank the team for its commitment to children’s mental health.”

The Project AWARE program has created community partnerships to bring satellite services to the campus. the program offers prevention programs such as “Positive Action for Middle School,” “Too Good for Drugs & Violence” and the “PAX Good Behavior Game.” Officials said Project AWARE has also given Youth Mental Health First Aid training to 73% of the district’s teachers.

“The Rensselaer City School District and Project AWARE team are deeply honored to be recognized for our achievements in advancing mental health and wellness for our K-12 students,” said Heather Staszak, Project AWARE’s In-School Coordinator. “This has involved an extraordinary team effort with several key partners, including Rensselaer County Mental Health, the Start Children’s Center, the Rensselaer Police Department, and of course, our parents and community members. Working together with our Pupil Personnel Services Department and Project AWARE, we’ve been able to create a continuum of training opportunities for teachers, faculty, and staff and a multi-tiered system of mental health services and care to best serve the needs of all our students.”

The “What’s Great in Our State” event was first launched in 2010 and is held during Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. The event features a reading of Governor Kathy Hochul’s announcement proclaiming the week as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, a ceremony recognizing the honorees, and an art show featuring artwork created by children receiving services from the state’s mental health system.