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Island schools to raise awareness to prevent suicide, bullying

Nearly 100 Long Island schools will be among at least 150 schools and organizations across the state and nation taking part in P.S. I Love You Day on Friday, a program created by a former West Islip student to raise awareness of mental health and preventing suicide and bullying.

The ninth annual event, founded by Brooke DiPalma, whose father committed suicide in April 2010, will be marked by several assemblies and activities in 95 schools Islandwide, where students, staff and supporters have been asked to wear purple as a reminder that support is available. The initiative comes during a time when New York State schools have placed a greater emphasis on mental health.

"It is so important for our students to know that they are never alone," said Jaimie DiPalma, 26, co-director of the West-Islip based nonprofit and Brooke's sister.

DiPalma said participation has grown to schools in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Virginia. Libraries and businesses also will participate.

H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square will take part for the first time this year. Teachers will forgo traditional subjects, with each period devoted to topics such as kindness and dealing with depression. Hallways and classrooms in grades seven through 12 will be decorated in purple, and several events, including a purple bake sale and purple photo booth, are planned.

In addition, the school has teamed with Dan's Plan, an organization that's also spreading suicide prevention awareness. It was founded in honor of Dan Babich, a 2008 graduate who took his own life. His brother Michael, a 2010 graduate, will be on hand, and the school’s video club created a special video centered on Dan, which will be shown in classrooms.

"We want to let everyone know how important this is and how important it is letting people know that this is a safe space," said Sharon Flynn, H. Frank Carey's assistant principal.

At the elementary level, North Babylon's Parliament Place has made purple hearts for each staff member, including cafeteria workers and custodians. In turn, teachers have made purple hearts with the name of each student.

"We want to make sure the children know they are cared for," fifth-grade teacher Staci Manning said.

New York is the first state in the nation to require mental health education as a component of health education. The law, which went into effect July 1, requires schools — at all levels — to include mental health as part of their physical health instruction.

Audra Cerruto, associate dean and director of the graduate education program at Molloy College, said there has been an increase in anxiety and stress among students, with studies showing an impact on children, even at the elementary level. And while she applauds the state's initiative, she also said such efforts need to extend beyond physical education instruction.

"It really needs to be the whole school community," she said, adding that programs such as P.S. I Love You Day are a good start.

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