Testimony of the McSilver Institute before NYC Council Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction  

Good Morning Chairperson Louis and all Council Members present. Thank you for the opportunity to  submit testimony regarding our Step-Up program, a youth development and mental health support  program currently serving NYC Department of Education schools.  

Step-Up: Fostering Resilience, Life Skills and Academic Success Through a Positive Youth Development Model

Central to the McSilver Institute’s mission is working with community partners to rapidly translate our research findings into action through policy and practice. A prime example comes through Step-Up.  Step-Up is a youth development and mental health support program funded by the Robin Hood  Foundation that aims to promote social-emotional development, key life skills, academic achievement,  high school graduation and a positive transition to young adulthood. The program is embedded within  two New York City high schools located in East Harlem and the Bronx. 

Developed by NYU McSilver in collaboration with the Center for Collaborative Inner-City Child Mental  Health Services Research (CCCR) at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Step-Up was designed for youth  experiencing significant environmental, academic, social and emotional challenges. It is a multi component, youth-informed program that offers in-school life skills groups, one-on-one mentoring,  mental health supports, structured opportunities for community service and leadership development. 

Step-Up staff consists of 2 clinical social workers with a combined experience of 30 years, as well as 10- 12 highly trained Master of Social Work interns from NYU’s Silver School of Social Work. Interns receive  ongoing trainings (anti-oppressive, motivational interviewing, social group work, etc.), as well as task  and clinical supervision in order to ensure alignment with best practices. Through the trainings,  supervision, and real-world experience it provides, Step-Up serves as a pipeline for students to become  well-trained social workers. Students also provide much-needed support to our clinical social workers,  who like other social workers throughout the City, handle sizable caseloads, each of which requires a  significant time and emotional commitment.  

Over the past 12 years, Step-Up has worked in partnership with youth, parents and staff out of 8 high schools. The program has served over 800 students (35% Black, 50% Latinx, 15% other) and achieved a graduation rate of 97%, among many other positive educational and mental health outcomes. 

Step-Up Responds to the COVID-19 Impact on NYC Children  

The Step-Up program has observed first-hand how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the  environmental, academic, social and emotional challenges school-aged children across the City face. In  November 2020, a survey administered to Step-Up participants found that these students struggled with  stress derived from a myriad of sources, including from issues related to device access, fears for their future, and anxiety about college and anticipated job/financial struggles. The continuity of the Step-Up  program throughout the pandemic has played an important role in helping students navigate these  complex challenges.  

In March of 2020, Step-Up transitioned to fully remote programming due to the citywide shut-down and  subsequent school closures. Since then, the program has provided individual and group virtual sessions  using Doxy.me, a telemedicine portal, and Google Meet. In the Fall of 2020, 8 MSW interns were trained  remotely to provide virtual mentoring to program participants. Program training included: “One-on-One  and Crises in a Virtual Space, “Group Work,” “Adolescent Development,” “Positive Youth Development,”  

“Informed Consent and Telehealth.” MSW interns continue to receive in-house virtual program training  on various clinical approaches to care to continue to offer optimal services to youth and their families.  

Additionally, Step-Up staff and MSW students have worked with both school sites to offer extensive  virtual support to teachers, administrators and parent associations through intensive outreach efforts as  well as providing training geared toward mental health and wellness prevention. Because of the shift to  remote learning, participants in Step-Up required more technical assistance. The Step-Up program  repurposed its budget to accommodate and purchase devices for 28 program participants with the  overall goal of supporting them in their college and career endeavors. 

Expanding Mental Health Support Services in NYC Schools Through Step-Up  

City schools must be equipped with social workers and mental health services like Step-Up to address the emerging mental health and emotional support needs of our youth populations. The McSilver Institute’s  expertise, not only in the study of these issues, but also in the successful deployment of innovative  models that deliver such support services to NYC youth, will prove critical in the COVID-19 recovery  effort.  

We greatly appreciate the commitment of the City Council in emphasizing, for years, the important role  that positive youth development models play in fostering resilience, life skills, and academic success  among the City’s youth population. We applaud the City’s addition of social workers in schools in recent  years—however, many more resources in this area are needed. COVID-19’s impact deepens our need  for more school social workers, and as such, the McSilver Institute stands ready to offer technical  assistance, training, research and program support toward the social, emotional and mental health  support that our city’s youth need. With support from the City Council, as reflected in our FY’22  discretionary budget request, we hope to soon provide dedicated mental health support and  multicomponent program services to high-need students at additional DOE schools throughout the City through the Step-Up program.  

We welcome the opportunity to further discuss the Step-Up program and the efforts of the McSilver  Institute at-large with members of the City Council. Thank you for the opportunity to testify. We would  be happy to answer any additional questions you may have. (Please contact Konstantine Tettonis, NYU  Government Affairs, kt1249@nyu.edu)