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Croton Teacher Tagged for NAMI Recognition

Kerri Tracy Receives NAMI Award

Croton Teacher Tagged for NAMI Recognition

When Kerri Tracy was studying to be a health and physical education teacher 13 years ago, mental health was not a subject addressed seriously.

“It was mentioned, and woven into some lesson plans, but nothing like what’s going on today,” she said.

Fortunately, it was something that the Croton-Harmon High School teacher did take seriously, and her students are all the better for it. Just one year into her 11-year teaching career in Croton-Harmon, Tracy welcomed a speaker from the Westchester chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) into her classroom to speak to students. “It was about how to speak up and end the silence, how to take care of our mental wellness, to look out for each other and where to find support” she said. Now, a decade later, Tracy has received NAMI’s Community Service Award.

Over the years mental health and wellness has become such an important part of her teaching that NAMI is recognizing the Croton-Harmon health teacher with its 2022 Community Spirit Award. “Kerri was open to the NAMI message right from the start,” said NAMI Westchester Executive Director and Croton-on-Hudson parent Marie Considine, who first approached the health teacher with the idea in 2014.”Since then, she has really helped spread the NAMI message in the school district, which Ibelieve has had tremendous impact on Croton-Harmon students and their families.”

“The NAMI presentation about “Ending the Silence” is so powerful, I fell in love with it right away,” said Tracy. “It’s about acknowledging mental health and trying to get more comfortable talking about it.

“When I was at the NYSAHPERD Conference this year, the keynote speaker, Paul Forbes said something that has stuck with me. He said, he doesn't want to return to normal, he wants to create a new normal. I would love to help my students create a new normal that includes the prioritization of mental well-being,” she continued. 

Recognizing that mental health issues can develop with students younger than high school, the presentation was introduced to the middle school and now all Croton-Harmon students experience it twice in their school careers. Tracy is currently working on a project to get high school students into the elementary schools to further spread the message of Ending the Silence. Reinforcing the lesson each year is the annual NAMIWalks Westchester walkathon, which Tracy participates in each year, encouraging students to join in. In 2020, in the depths of the pandemic, students participated virtually, and last year Tracy organized a weeklong walkathon around the high school track, with “someone on the track at any given time throughout the school day,” she said.

NAMI loved the idea and has spread the model to other schools. “The lesson is about how being outside helps take care of physical and mental wellness,” Tracy said. “This was really important during COVID: taking breaks outside, hiking, running, being in nature. ”The event took place in May, Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year she is at it again. Tracy has registered a Croton-Harmon UFSD team for the May 14 walkathon, to be held at Ridge Road Park in Hartsdale, with a $2,500 fundraising goal.

Tracy has repeatedly shared that she couldn't do the "NAMI Walk-a-thon" without the support of Principal Laura Dubak, Assistant Principal Mark Maxam and the CHHS faculty and staff. “Last year when we started this, teachers were super supportive of taking walk breaks, wearing green, etc. When the students see everyone cares about their well-being, not just their health teacher, it sends a greater message. I am so grateful to work with teachers that support this,” she said.