Tony Pantaleno of the Elwood Teachers Alliance has been honored as School Psychologist of the Year by his peers of the New York Association of School Psychologists.
Pantaleno has worked in his Long Island district for 30 years. He said the most significant change in education during his tenure was the Children's Mental Health Act of 2006.
The mission of the voluntary act is to provide education in social and emotional learning, Pantaleno said, "a direct attempt to provide instruction in problem solving."
The act authorizes the collaboration of the State Education Department and Office of Mental Health.
This type of education, he stressed, is "the missing link to help children become better and more efficient learners. If emotions and mental health status are better, you'll be a better learner."
Pantaleno's own shining star - in a career marked by thousands of interactions with students in need - is a peer program to help students develop emotionally.
Three years ago, he brought Operation Respect to Elwood, a program founded by musician Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame), whose signature graces Pantaleno's own guitar.
Finding a group
"I'm trying to integrate kids within special education who have no social connections or friends or just kids who are disconnected," he said. "Some are kids who just never found a group."
Other students at the school who are more socially adjusted are trained as mentors, then brought together with the students who need extra social support.
They hang out together at baseball games, bowling nights or parties as part of a socialization program.
The New York Association of School Psychologists is led by John Kelly of the Commack Teachers Association, who is also a member of NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council.
- Liza Frenette