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HILLSBOROUGH: Local teachers union to host community conversation on mental health, substance abuse

Community organizations throughout Hillsborough Township will gather at Hillsborough High School next Saturday for a morning of frank discussions and potential solutions to the mental health and substance abuse issues that residents face every day.

From 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, January 20, the Hillsborough Education Association (HEA) will host the first of two such events created to establish a dialogue among as many people possible.

Based on the “World Cafe” model, which “emphasizes creating a space that allows for maximum involvement,” the discussion will be open to the everyone above 13 years old.

In addition, the HEA has reached out to a number of other community organizations to join in the discussion, including the Hillsborough Township Board of Education, the township committee, the Hillsborough Township Police Department, the Hillsborough Municipal Alliance and local legislators.

“We really want as many facets of our community to be involved,” HEA Second Vice President Elena Maucere said.

According to Maucere, who also serves as a chair on the New Jersey Education Association’s PRIDE division, the upcoming event has been in the works since October. Since its early stages, the HEA has been working with PRIDE to organize the event.

After being awarded a grant from PRIDE, the HEA was linked with Rich Wilson, an associate director with the NJEA Professional Development & Instructional Issues Division who is well-versed in the aforementioned “World Cafe” model.

HEA President Henry Goodhue said Wilson will utilize the nationally recognized discussion method to drive the conversation as an impartial third-party.

“This is not necessarily going to be to talk about this one aspect of the problem, but it’s largely going to depend on where the participants are going to want to go with the conversation,” he said.

For months, concerned parents and teachers have taken to the Hillsborough Township Board of Education meetings to address their concerns regarding drug abuse and depression within the student body.

In December, the school board enacted anti-drug policies that allowed for the use of naloxone, commonly referred to as Narcan, to deal with opiate overdoses and reclassified electronic cigarettes as drug paraphernalia, since they can be used to take narcotics. Earlier in the year, the board hired more counselors to fill gaps in coverage within the district’s buildings.

“There are many things that Hillsborough does within the school district and the town itself that are in many ways ahead of the curve,” Goodhue said. “It’s just about having a conversation about our concerns and what we have to do to address it in relation to what’s already in place and where we can go from here.”

While the first event will take place at the Hillsborough High School commons from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, January 20, the date for a second meeting in February has not been selected.

A light breakfast will be served at the event. To register, visit https://tinyurl.com/hillsboroughdiscussion.

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