HUGHESTOWN — Luzerne County Honorable Judge William Amesbury said he has seen many people come and go through his courtroom who suffer from a mental illness.
Rather than waiting until that individual is sentenced, he’s decided to get to the problem much earlier in their lives when they are still in school.
Amesbury was at the Pittston Area Primary Center on Oct. 9 during the teacher in-service day to lead a presentation to help faculty identify when a student is showing signs of a mental illness or learning disability, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), autism, Asperger’s syndrome and others.
“My thought here is I don’t want to scare parents,” said Amesbury. “But what I want to do is try to give an early identification, an intervention, reduce some of the symptoms and get treatment where treatment is needed.”
Although his career has seen him as a judge and a lawyer, Amesbury also has a degree in secondary education with a minors in psychology and sociology from Lock Haven University. He earned his master’s degree from Marywood University in secondary education before earning his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Amesbury said it was working in juvenile court that he decided to step in and begin educating on identifying mental health issues.
“You have kids with autism and Asperger’s symptoms and you also have kids with depression, anxiety and the possibility to develop bi-polar disorder,” said Amesbury. “They’re the kids I see and the kids who need to be identified early. My goal is to get into the pre-kindergarten on one end and come at it from the kids that are coming up before me which really are ages 14 through 18. I find it challenging, stimulating, and we’re learning more about it.”
Dr. Gregory Michael, a psychologist at the Children’s Service Center in Wilkes-Barre, was on hand to give a presentation as well. He spoke to the faculty about identifying certain behaviors with children and said the benefits of the presentation will not only help the children, but the faculty members as well.
“My goal is to increase awareness so they are better able to recognize some of the signs that are telling of the child has some sort of mental health issue,” said Michael. “Whether it be ADHD, depression or reaction to a traumatic episode, those things can get caught early, so it’s not so far down the line where they are struggling in school, involved in juvenile injustice and their social adjustment is off because they’re doing these deviant things because they’re not thinking clearly.”
Also giving presentations were John Bubblo, professional development specialist; Dr. Erica Hoot, assistant professor at Nesbitt School of Pharmacy at Wilkes-University; and Beth Ann Owens-Harris and Mary Olszewski, staff psychologists from the Wilkes-Barre Area School District.
Olszewski said she has seen her fair share of children with metal health issues and what the schools have done to help them.
“The kids who have mental health issues definitely tend to lead to problems in the school setting,” she said. “Often times we have to get them special education services because they’re not able to function well in the school. We want to provide more supports so that maybe they’re identified and then we can strengthen things with the families so they can better address the issues.”
With the faculty all ready to learn, Pittston Area Primary Center Principal Arthur Savokinas called the presentation a great opportunity for his faculty, and himself, to learn.
“This is my third year as principal here, so I’m still learning,” he said. “It’s nice that I can see how I can get better with my job or work better with the court system, mental health system or children in youth to see how we can help our students succeed.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher