POUGHKEEPSIE – The Office of School Engagement has two new employees who will be focused on improving mental health throughout the district – funded by different grants.
Though she went to school for architectural engineering and worked as a civil engineer, Diandria Williams knew it wasn’t the right job for her.
“I wanted to sit with people, talk to people, help people,” said Williams, currently the program coordinator in the Office of School Engagement. Williams went back to school and earned a psychology degree, taking a job as the program director for a domestic violence shelter and later becoming the executive director. After the owners decided to close the shelter, she saw the PCSD job posting and joined the team.
Now, she oversees the New York State Office of Mental Health grant that provides Astor Services school-based clinics at Poughkeepsie Middle School and Poughkeepsie High School. The goal is to engage students in mental health and help them succeed.
“When I was offered the job here, I thought I could make the most difference and affect the community in a positive way – which is my passion. I wanted to help make the community stronger,” said Williams.
One of Diandria Williams’ other responsibilities is putting out a monthly newsletter for student-facing staff. Each one has one main mental health topic that explains what it is, who is affected by it, ways educators can support students and topic-specific resources.
Her role also includes working on developing a system of collaborative care with Dutchess County and local agencies, representing the district on several community committees to discuss student mental health and providing professional development for PCSD staff through quarterly mental health and wellness newsletters and mental health training during superintendent conference days. She will soon launch a third newsletter for secondary school parents/families that will address mental health through a cultural lens.
Diandria has worked with children before through her church, offering mentorship and dance programs. In fact, dancing is a passion of hers and something she regularly pursues through ballroom dancing – she will soon enter her second dance competition.
Christine Smack is no stranger to Poughkeepsie schools. As an alumni of the district, Smack worked for Marist Upward Bound and Liberty Partnership at Poughkeepsie High School prior to joining the district as a school caseworker.
In her role within the Office of School Engagement, Smack oversees a mental health awareness training grant that gives the district an opportunity to implement the 7 Mindsets program districtwide. The program is an evidence-based learning system that is based on the assertion that success depends less on what a person knows, and more on how he or she thinks.
The goal is to improve student well-being and achievement, healthy school culture and educator happiness.
“I have a strong sensitivity and passion for youth. It is my goal to make a difference in their lives by providing them with tools to lead a healthy and successful life, despite their circumstances,” said Smack, who has worked with students in Poughkeepsie for about nine years, including time as a crisis counselor.
A family person at heart, Smack enjoys spending her out-of-work time with her two sons. “They are my life, and they inspire me every day,” she said, adding that she likes taking long walks and being outdoors. Gardening and crafting are also on the list of activities that she enjoys.