South Orange–Maplewood BOE student reps ask for more mental health support in schools

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — South Orange–Maplewood Board of Education student representative Noah Morros asked the BOE for another social worker to be hired at Columbia High School, citing the number of students who are struggling with mental health issues, especially in the wake of the death of sophomore Cole Longworth at the end of March. At the April 18 meeting, Morros thanked CHS Principal Frank Sanchez and Guidance Director Falynn Balassone for their response.

“Cole was a high-achieving student and a friend to many, who have been heavily impacted by his passing,” Morros said. “I wanted to thank Ms. Balassone and Principal Sanchez for their quick and compassionate response to student grieving. They had professional social workers come in, optimizing our guidance counselors and bringing in therapy dogs and bunnies for students to bond with.”

Those looking to remember Longworth and share condolences can visit

Morros said he and the other BOE student representative, Vanessa Previlon, have been working with Balassone to expand counseling resources and build better student outreach so their peers will know what resources are available. According to Morros, their strategy includes social media and email outreach.

“While our guidance department is well equipped, the need for another social worker was something that was heavily expressed,” he said. “Right now, we have social work interns and one social worker to help students deal with their mental health on a multi-week program. These programs have been fully booked all year. Students who need help with their mental health have been turned away from these services due to the lack of space. This is clearly an issue that should be addressed not only swiftly, but also completely. We need to continue to build on the mental health resources available to our students, and not only at Columbia, but around the district as a whole.”

Morros and Previlon are planning on working on their outreach plan with Balassone at other schools throughout the district this year, collaborating with the guidance departments in each individual school.

Superintendent Ronald Taylor opened his report at the meeting with a moment of silence for Longworth. Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis did the same at the April 5 Township Committee meeting.

“We continue to send our prayers and support to the family, friends and loved ones who are undoubtedly still coping with this unspeakable tragedy,” Taylor said at the BOE meeting.

Mental health support and programming was a topic of conversation at the March 21 meeting as well, with BOE member Elissa Malespina asking for additional funding in the 2022-2023 district budget for student socioemotional support.

“We need to think about getting some more resources and doing what we can to help these children who are greatly suffering right now,” Malespina said at the March 21 meeting.

Director of Curriculum Ann Bodnar said funding will be made available for socioemotional learning, but the district is not yet sure what it will be used for. Taylor said he wants to see more planned spring programs come to fruition before adding more.