Greece Athena launches texting-based app for counseling needs

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GREECE, N.Y. – High school can be a challenging time for teens- especially in today’s world, with the prevalence of social media platforms and cyber-bullying. That’s why the Greece Athena High School is launching a new initiative, where students and staff can text counselors any time, they need them. The program is offered through a partnership with Counslr.

Everything happens on one app. Students and staff have access to this free pilot program for the rest of the school year, and into the summer. If all goes as planned, the district could adopt it for good.

The district said it’s for both students and staff, and dozens of downloads have been made so far. Principal Kelly Flagler said they’ll have specific numbers at the end of the school year. This all comes as U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy issued a warning, saying children and teens are struggling with their mental health. Social media, being one of the most damaging contributors.

Flagler said this is one reason they’ve done away with cell phones in class.

“There’s social anxieties they’re struggling with to some degree, but fortunately we have a lot of support in the building,” she said.

But their building is only open during daytime hours. That’s where the Counslr app comes into play. While students can’t access phones in school, the district is encouraging them to try out the app on their off-hours. It’s available 24/7, 265 days a year.

Dr. Christine Baker is Director of Student Services and School Improvement. She said the partnership launched in May and aims to reach students who face all kinds of barriers.

“Waitlists, transportation to services,” she said. “This is something new and different that we haven’t explored before, that we’re really excited about.”

Students and staff can download the app for free. They enter their school and answer a brief survey to get paired with a counselor.

Everything is confidential. But you may be wondering, who is my child going to be texting?

Counslr CEO, Josh Liss, said they have a large provider network spread out across the country.

“These are all licensed mental health professionals, licensed mental health counselors, social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists,” said Liss.

He said if any counselor notices an emergency, they have handoffs and safety nets built in. When the student makes an account, they also hand over a parent contact.

“Everyone on the team has either faced a mental health challenge, personally, or faced one in their family or circle of friends,” said Liss. “So, myself personally, I’ve dealt with my fair share in high school and college. It’s tough being a student.”

It’s something that would’ve been a game-changer for him, when he was a student.

“This to me, is meeting an area we didn’t really have before,” said Flagler. “The counselor app provides a service to all students, when they need it on their terms.”

Greece Athena is the only school in Monroe County using the app. They’re also one of a few other high schools in the country participating in the pilot program for this age group. Counslr has mostly worked with colleges and universities. Liss said they hope to launch individual services soon.

The district will assess the program’s success at the end of the summer.