Conversations About Student Mental Health-logo

Conversations About Student Mental Health

Education Podcasts

In this podcast, we talk with school administrators, educators, clinicians, and parents to open a dialogue that will help the growing number of students struggling with mental illness.


United States


In this podcast, we talk with school administrators, educators, clinicians, and parents to open a dialogue that will help the growing number of students struggling with mental illness.








How Journaling Serves the Pursuit of Radical Wellness

In this episode Chris Leonard, Thrive’s Chief Learning Officer, spoke with Alina Liao, the founder and CEO of Zenit, a ”radical wellness” company whose philosophy is that everything we do must advance the wellness of all our stakeholders. Highlights include:


Post-Covid Challenges and Remedies

In this episode Chris Leonard, Thrive’s Chief Learning Officer, recently spoke with power couple, Michael and Nita Creekmore about their firsthand knowledge of the current challenges that students, teachers, and parents are facing and clear ideas of how to support ourselves, our children, our students and our colleagues. Highlights include:


Preparing School Staff for the Challenges of the Upcoming School Year

In this episode Chris Leonard, Thrive’s Chief Learning Officer, recently spoke with Dr. Michael J. Hynes, Superintendent of the Port Washington School District in New York and an award-winning educator who advocates for a holistic approach to educating children. Dr. Hynes shared strategies for helping staff navigate the challenges ahead, along with his secret sauce for helping students get the most out of school. Highlights include:


How Teacher Coaching Improves School Climate & Culture

In this episode of Conversations About Student Mental Health, Chris Leonard tackles the question of how to prepare teachers to support the growing social and emotional needs of students. Chris talks with Steven Cates, an interventionist at Southside Community School in Tucson, Arizona, and a participant in Thrive Alliance Group’s Coaching, Training, and Certification program. Chris and Steven discuss a new approach to mental wellness support: raising the capacity of the entire staff to improve school climate & culture. Highlights include:


Creating a Mindset Shift: Mental Health Climate & Culture in Schools

This episode of Conversations About Student Mental Health explores the mindset shift that is necessary to create a culture and climate of mental health and wellness in your school. Making this shift is one of three critical facets of maximizing the mental health and wellness of students. Chris Leonard talks with Dr. Ricki Gibbs, Principal of Warner Arts Magnet Elementary in Nashville, who has assumed stewardship of the climate and culture of mental wellness in his school and is seeing meaningful results. Under Dr. Gibbs’ leadership, Warner transformed from one of the lowest performing schools in the Metro Nashville Public Schools to being the first and only Metro Nashville Public School to be recognized as a Blue Ribbon Beacon School in 2021. Highlights include:


Speeding Access to Acute Mental Health Care with XFERALL

It’s no secret that the mental health needs of youth have been intensifying. Getting young people the treatment they need in a crisis has become a greater challenge because of the length of time they must spend in the emergency room (often more than 12 hours) waiting for risk assessments and acute follow up care. In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with Shana Palmieri, the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of XFERALL, an innovative mobile technology platform that can help schools (and healthcare and community professionals) get faster access to best-fit acute care, as well as other treatment resources, for young people experiencing a mental health crisis. Highlights include:


COVID 2022: Teacher Perspectives

As the COVID pandemic rages on, students are facing significant challenges, including: In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with three teachers about the difficulties they are facing, what is working, what is not working, and what more we can do to help our students and schools get back on track. Chris’ guests are Alexandra Lemm, a 7th grade English teacher in Texas, Allie Szczecinski, a special educator and SEL coach in Illinois, and David Gibbons, a teacher in Texas with a focus on curriculum development.


Fostering Positive Relationships Between Parents, Schools and the Community

In the past 18 months, many students experienced gaps in academic, social, and emotional development. Parents are worried about what their children have missed and how their school will ensure stability and readiness for what comes next. Needless to say, the current situation can be a recipe for tension between parents and educators. So how do we foster positive working relationships between educators and parents? Chris Leonard talks with Dr. Gerry Crisonino, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services in the Jersey City, NJ Public Schools, who currently serves over 4200 students with disabilities. Highlights include:


School Refusal Series Part 2: What Parents Can Do

In this episode, Chris Leonard shares advice for parents to help their school-refusing child get back to school. Chris and his guest also touch on how schools can partner with parents to form a team to help a student get back on track. This time, Chris gets interviewed by his guest, Jayne Demsky. Jayne is a parent who once faced her own son’s school avoidance and became an advocate for families dealing with this challenging issue. She founded School Refusal Hope in 2014 and recently launched her new website,, to provide guidance and support for families. Jayne also serves on the Public Policy Committee for the New Jersey state office of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and is a NAMI Smarts Advocacy trainer, where she presents workshops on mental health advocacy. Highlights include:


School Refusal Series Part 1: Re-Integrating and Retaining Students After COVID

After more than a year of hybrid and remote learning, students have experienced a new normal of staying home. School professionals are concerned that a wave of school refusal will hit us this fall. How can we prepare? In this episode, Chris talks about strategies for school refusal intervention with Dr. Paul Barbato, Director of Special Services in Dumont, NJ Public Schools. Dr. Barbato is also an Adjunct Professor at three NJ colleges and holds leadership positions in several key NJ educational organizations. Highlights include:


Demystifying Mental Health with Coaching for School Staff

As we return to full-time, in-person learning, educators expect even more students to struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that interfere with their ability to learn and succeed in school. It's clear that there is a mental health gap that we urgently need to close in order to address the academic gap from lost learning during the pandemic, and ultimately to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students. Teachers, administrators, and school counselors must be ready to assist these students. So where do we start? Chris Leonard’s guest is John Reilly, Clinical Director of the Thrive Alliance Group. John is a certified psychoanalyst and a licensed clinical social worker with over 28 years in practice. He also served for 22 years as an owner and administrator of the Sage Day and New Alliance Academy therapeutic day schools. Currently, John provides weekly mental health coaching sessions to cohorts of school personnel. In this episode, John shares how this coaching process supports school staff in becoming more confident and more effective in working with students struggling with mental health issues. Highlights include:


Starting the Conversation About Race, Equality and Bias in Schools

Dealing with race, equality, and bias is a problem that continues to confound Americans, in large part because we are not even comfortable talking about it. Yet our children and teens are watching events unfold in the world and they have questions, real questions. As educators, we need to support thoughtful dialogue. So how do we talk to our students and to each other in ways that are constructive and productive? In this episode, Chris talks with LaCoyya Weathington, Assistant Superintendent for Compliance, Equity and Student Services at the Cherry Hill New Jersey Public School District. LaCoyya's background in education spans 27 years with a focus on improving educational opportunities for students, including serving as Director of Education for the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission. Highlights include: “As an administrator, you can't be the person that's watching on the sidelines and not doing anything. Our role is to set the example for the district. For every person that interacts with us, we're setting an example. So we have to look at our own biases. And we have to be very courageous.”


Nancy Sulla on Engaging Students in a Hybrid Learning Environment

We've all seen the national news reports declaring this spring's remote learning a disaster. Students and parents were worried about not feeling engaged, lacking socialization, and being just plain bored. Although schools are trying to create safe in-person learning, most will start the year in a hybrid mix of in-person and remote learning. In this episode, Chris talks with Dr. Nancy Sulla, author of five books on creating student-driven, blended learning environments. Dr. Sulla’s instructional plan for transforming learning is giving teachers an entirely new way to build student engagement, empowerment, and efficacy. Highlights include:


Dealing with Grief

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought grief to the forefront, because nearly all of us are grieving right now. Many of us have loved ones who have died. Others have lost jobs, missed out on graduation ceremonies, or lost the daily social interaction that sustains us. What we've all experienced is the undeniable feeling that the future is uncertain. And that we really can't know when, or if, things will feel normal again. Life is never predictable, but we crave certainty, and can feel quite lost when we feel so deeply unsure about how the future will unfold. In this episode, Chris Leonard speaks with Christina Jelly and Jon Brandt, who both lost loved ones during the pandemic. Highlights include:


Coping With Fear & Anxiety

In this episode, Chris Leonard talks about how to understand and manage the anxiety many of us have been struggling with during the pandemic crisis. His guest is John Reilly, a clinical social worker and certified psychoanalyst with 30 years of experience working with adolescents and adults. Highlights include:


Social Media & Student Mental Health Q&A

In this episode, Chris Leonard answers questions about what schools can do to encourage healthy social media usage by their students, and prevent the problems that arise from harmful behavior on social media. The questions were submitted by school administrators, counselors, and teachers during our recent webinar: “Untangling the Web: How Social Media Affects Mental Health and How to Help.” Highlights include:


The Anxiety Epidemic & Teacher Burnout

In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with two experienced special ed teachers about how teachers can support the growing number of students with mental illness... and how school districts must support teachers. Jessica LaForgia and RJ Laxamana share interventions that teachers and school staff can use to help students succeed and ensure a more productive school day for everyone. Highlights include:


Strategies for Funding Student Mental Health Programs

In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with Pat Hovey, a leader and innovator among NJ Directors of Special Services. Pat has worked to implement and fund successful programs for students with mental health problems in several New Jersey school districts, as well as serving as an advisor to numerous other districts. Chris and Pat discuss the process of obtaining funding for student mental health support, as well as funding sources. Highlights include:


Navigating the Holidays: Supporting Students and Staff

In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with Dr. Mary Rose Scalo, a former Director of Special Services in Wayne and in Parsippany. Chris and Mary Rose discuss strategies for dealing with the heightened stress experienced by students, families, and staff during the holiday season and when transitioning back to school after the break. Highlights include:


Solving School Avoidance: Strategies for Schools

In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with Linda McGovern, a mental health clinician embedded full time in the Randolph, New Jersey public school district. Linda has worked effectively with many students struggling with school avoidance, and offers advice and specific strategies that schools can use to transition these students back to school. Highlights include: