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Program to help students return from long mental health absences expanding in high schools

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WELLESLEY - The BRYT (Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition) program, or Bridge Program as they call it at Wellesley High School, has helped hundreds of students transition back to school after an extended mental health absence.

"This program has become apart of the fabric of the school," social worker Lindsey Yamaguchi told WBZ-TV.

"Attendance improves. Wellness and well-being in school improves. Academic outcomes improve," said BRYT Executive Director Paul Hyry-Dermith.

Nearly 20 years ago Yamaguchi wrote the grant to get Bridge implemented at Wellesley High.

"It has been inspiring. Because I get to work with students, like you, who are going through a rough patch, having a tough time but then they make it out," she told WBZ.

My sophomore year I was hospitalized for anxiety and depression. When I got out and went back to Wellesley High, the Bridge Program and its leaders Lindsey and Adam, were there waiting for me.

"I think it will give kids a place to belong. And a sense of belonging and it will help make schools feel more welcoming," Yamaguchi said. She's enjoyed seeing the growth in students who complete the program.

"I feel really lucky that students let me be a part of their lives for what can be an incredibly trying time."

Yamaguchi remembers when she first started advocating to get the program in the school. Seeing the hundreds of students who've benefited from it brings her joy.

"It's been like my baby. It's like watching your kids grow up almost," she said.

Right now, 50-percent of public high school students in Massachusetts have the program in their school. Yamaguchi remembers when it was just getting started.

"It's incredible. We used to sit around, eight schools thinking about best practices and now it's in hundreds of schools," she told WBZ.

They hope to get the program in all public high schools in the state in the next two years.

"Our goal is to move as fast as possible towards universal adoption of BRYT in Massachusetts public high schools," Hyry-Dermith said.

He started as an educator and told us he received little-to-no training on students and mental health.

"We don't have the whole solution, but we have something meaningful, concrete and really powerful to help support the kids who need it the most," he said.

Hyry-Dermith explained that although every school is different, the need for mental health services for students, especially after the pandemic, is the same.

"It's really not fair that some students in some schools can have the support and students in others can't," he said, and that's why they're pushing for expansion.

"There's a ripple effect for standing up for both good practice and destigmatizing mental health. As more and more kids [talk about the program] it becomes okay for them and their families to get these supports," Hyry-Dermith said.

They use the team at Wellesley High to mentor newer programs, supervise other schools and be a model for how it can run successfully.

"I really feel like we've built up this community and students who've gone through the intervention, they're back in their classes, they still come back and visit and mentor young students," Yamaguchi said. She told us the students she works with are some of the bravest people she knows.

The program's statistics show it works. Fewer than 20-percent of students who utilize the program get re-hospitalized and nearly 90-percent graduate with their class.

"I can sit in meetings with families and students and say 'I know you're going through this for the first time but we've worked with hundreds students and families in your shoes. It's going to be okay," Yamaguchi said.

When you graduate Wellesley High, if you complete the Bridge Program, you get to leave your handprint on a mural in their classroom. Yamaguchi says she looks at it every day in awe.

"I feel like when a student joins in and puts their handprint and even writes their name with their handprint, they're saying I did it, I'm proud of myself and this is okay. I don't have to hide," she said.

She hopes bringing the program into all schools will give students a place to feel a sense of belonging and make schools more welcoming.

For more information, visit the BRYT website.

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