Pivot Foundation raising funds to boost school counseling services

From left, Natalie DiFabion, Mason Andiorio and Elieana DiSalvo attend their socially distanced English class in December 2020 at Case Middle School in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — With the return of full-time instruction presenting additional challenges in schools, counselors have extended waiting lists and do not have the capacity to adequately serve all student requests.

Pivot Prevention and Health Services is looking to help alleviate some of the pressures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic through additional community- and school-based services in the upcoming year.

Students have reported increased stress and anxiety, academic disengagement, increased use of alcohol and other drugs, especially vaping both tobacco and marijuana, and a difficulty in self-regulating problem behaviors.

In a recent letter to community members and potential donors from the Pivot Foundation, it was noted that the organization has added four new positions and expanded two others this school year, but needs continue to grow.

“We have a formal partnership with many of the districts in the county and going back 30 years have had relationships with all of them at one time or another,” said William Bowman, executive director of Pivot. “Usually, prior to COVID, we would partner 50/50 so we would provide half of the resources and the school district could provide the other half, and we would be able to provide districts a cost-effective prevention educator/counselor who would be able to provide additional services in school districts.”

“Since COVID hit,” he added, “the need has been heightened, the social emotional needs of students and staff are at a critical point, and so we’ve added some more positions, we’ve gotten some resources to do that. But the need is still really great, so we would like to be able to respond to that.”

For the upcoming school year, the Pivot’s goal is to raise $50,000. According to Mr. Bowman, the organization would like to raise the funds to afford another full-time position that would likely be filled next school year.

The primary mission of Pivot is the prevention of substance-use problems and ultimately, addictions. The cornerstone of its programs is a school-based, two-pronged approach: prevention counseling that serves youth at heightened risk for substance problems and prevention curricula, taught universally in classrooms.

“This year, we felt that the upcoming year school-based services were where the most critical need was,” Mr. Bowman said. “That doesn’t mean to say that the school-based services are critical and other things aren’t. This is what we felt was the most-needed priority.”

Student assistance counselors provide information, referrals and individual and group counseling. Pivot provides evidence-based programs in schools throughout Jefferson County. Programs are designed to provide social-emotional learning, teach students the necessary skills to resist peer pressure and make healthy choices, develop greater confidence and self-esteem, and provide education on the effects and consequences of substance use and abuse.

The goal of the Student Assistance Services program is to encourage adolescents to make positive lifestyle choices, develop healthy coping skills, and to prevent alcohol and other substance use problems.

“One of the things that we’re really proud of at Pivot is that we’re able to partner with so many schools and community-based organizations, because if you want to prevent substance abuse issues, you’ve got to work together,” Mr. Bowman said. “The partnership is the true value of what we do, and the more that we can collaborate, the better off we’re all gonna be.”

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