Prevention specialist joins high school team

Three women stand in a school hallway. One of them is a police officer.
Principal Mary Tomaso introduces prevention services coordinator Kassandra Gonyea to School Resource Officer Shauna Jones.

Herkimer Jr./Sr. High School has added a new tool to its toolbox for helping to keep students drug-free.

Kassandra Gonyea, a prevention services coordinator with the Herkimer County Prevention Council, began working at the high school in September to help steer Herkimer students away from alcohol and substance abuse.

According to Director of Prevention Education Melissa Snyder, Gonyea will be available on a daily basis to support students who may be at risk for drug or alcohol abuse.

Gonyea and Snyder visited Herkimer Jr./Sr. High School recently to meet with Principal Mary Tomaso and other building staff to describe the scope of the council’s Student Assistance Program. (Read more about the program on the Prevention Council’s website). The program is funded through the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

Gonyea is wrapping up her first year working for the Prevention Council. At Herkimer, she will work with students in classes, groups and one-on-one, depending on their situation.

Gonyea explained that this may include students who have family members or friends who are abusing drugs or alcohol; or students experiencing conflict, trauma or loss that is affecting their mood, behavior or school performance.

Students who are found to have drugs or alcohol may also be referred to Gonyea to participate in Teen Intervene, a five-week program that aims to keep students from further drug or alcohol use.

Gonyea will also meet with students individually through the Student Assistance Counseling Program, where she will work with them to develop goals and strategies.

“The program is outcome-driven,” Snyder explained. “We’ll identify a skill we can work on — better communications, emotional management. Then we set measurable goals.”

Gonyea, who previously served students at Central Valley School District, can see students on a short-term basis to support those goals, or may see some students on a more long-term or ongoing basis.

“We work hand-in-hand with guidance counselors and social workers,” Gonyea explained.

In addition to group and individual programs, Gonyea will work with existing programs such as the school’s chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.), and the school resource officer, to support drug and alcohol awareness and education.