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Pleasantville Counselor Faces Daily Unpredictability With Students

Mary Ann Flatley, a resident of Sleepy Hollow, is the Student Assistance Counselor at Pleasantville High School.
Mary Ann Flatley, a resident of Sleepy Hollow, is the Student Assistance Counselor at Pleasantville High School. Photo Credit: Contributed

PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y. -- Unlike some of her colleagues at Pleasantville High School, Mary Ann Flatley has no idea what to expect from one day to the next. As the school’s Student Assistance Counselor, the Sleepy Hollow resident faces daily unpredictability.

Student Assistance Services, a not-for-profit corporation licensed by the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Service, provides prevention and early intervention counseling to students in many Westchester County schools.

“Every day is different,’’ said Flatley, who started her job at Pleasantville in September. “I have appointments, but there’s also room for emergent issues."

The position at Pleasantville came about with the support of Pleasantville STRONG, a community coalition whose mission is to reduce underage drinking and drug use by the town’s youth. This year, the two-day a week position is funded for one day by the proceeds from a community fundraiser hosted by John Mueller, the chairman of Pleasantville STRONG, and the second day is funded by the school district.

Flatley tries to reach students before they make harmful choices and assists students with wide-ranging issues.

“Even if they are not using alcohol or other drugs, this is a time in their lives when students are particularly vulnerable,’’ she said. “They could turn to negative ways of coping."

Students are referred and voluntarily seek out Flatley, who has worked in the field of mental health and substance abuse counseling since 2011. She tailors her approach to each individual, but her first question for students who are using always involves asking why a student is using a particular substance.

“It’s important for me to understand the benefit for the student who is using and then we can work together to figure out ways to attain those benefits in a more healthy way,’’ she said.

Some students turn to sports or exercise, some turn to music or different school activities, while others have more harmful coping mechanisms.

“If they don’t find positive ways of coping now, it will get harder to change behavior as they get older,’’ Flatley said. “For instance, if a student reports using marijuana to cope with anxiety, it is critical to help the students develop strategies to cope with anxiety that are positive and long lasting.”

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