Gabby Pascale recognized for mental health awareness initiative

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The hugs, embraces and tears of joy for Gabriella “Gabby” Pascale started last Thursday night and continued throughout last Friday at Winsor Hill Elementary School.

“Gabby knocked it out of the park,” said Sue Parillo, the health/physical education teacher at Winsor Hill. “She was incredible; think about it: a 10-year-old fifth grader being invited to an awards dinner as the guest speaker and delivering a powerful, moving and emotion-filled speech.”

Perhaps that’s why Anne Morton Smith, who serves as the development officer at Bradley School, told Parillo: “I am still marveling at how strong and unwavering Gabby’s delivery was. This is one young person who knows what she’s talking about and isn’t afraid to say it loud and clear.”

That is, for those people who know Pascale, an understatement of huge proportions.

For “Gabby,” as she’s affectionately known throughout the Winsor Hill community, was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder two years ago and last Thursday evening – as Parillo, Smith and dozens of other folks said “left them standing on their feet after her powerful speech.”

The popular Pascale, who is the daughter of Jack and Nikki Pascale, Morton Smith and other Bradley Hospital administrators said, “Helped us in more ways than she could ever know just by speaking up about mental illness. Maybe when it’s something she needs to hear; I know not all days are as good.”

Last Thursday evening couldn’t have been better for Pascale and her parents, as the WH fifth grader was awarded a half college scholarship by the Quel Fighters Club Foundation because, as Parillo and others said, “At such a young age, she is already being recognized and rewarded for her fight.”

The celebration continued into last Friday morning, when Principal Michele Zarcaro – who was assisted by Parillo – along with Pascale graciously accepted a plaque from Bradley Hospital that read, “With profound gratitude for your creating a supportive environment where children can inspire one another. A true partner in our work.”

Bradley Hospital awarded the plaque to Winsor Hill School, Parillo further explained, “for our outreach and awareness on children and mental health issues.”

It was perhaps a culmination of the story that “Gabby” began writing two years ago when she was diagnosed with the bipolar disorder and that surfaced last February when she approached Parillo and WH teacher Sandra Farone about doing something to raise awareness to Bradley Hospital.

“Gabby” had been a patient there and part of a research program and also was very involved in their programming.

“She wanted to use her voice to let other students know it’s ok to have a mental health issue,” Parillo said. “As teachers, we often deal with students that have AD, ADHS, anxiety and various behavior disorders. We team techniques to work our students and provide differentiated instruction as needed.”

Parillo said it’s not often that these conditions are talked about in health classes where many issues are discussed. Much of the focus is on developing the whole child well being for physical, social and emotional health. She said they teach students the importance of giving back and support issues such as beast cancer awareness and other often fatal cancers.

When “Gabby” approached Parillo and Farone, they said “why not” and “our principal always supports our ideas and loved the fact that this was student generated.”

Zarcaro, in fact, gave the entire project full support to do what we could our first year and soon the project, Parillo related, “became something greater than I ever imagined. Gabby spoke to her peers about what having anxiety and bipolar disorder was like. The students listened and understood. Some students even said that’s how I feel sometimes. The 10-year-old was powerful and meaningful.”

So much so, in fact, WH had guest speakers to share their stories and the school even hosted its first annual Walk-A-Thon for Bradley Hospital.

Last Thursday, Gabby – who gets every day support from her parents and brother Ben, a fourth grader at Winsor Hill and sister Alyssa, 13, an eighth grader at Ferri Middle School was the guest speaker at Bradley Hospital’s annual meeting.

“I couldn’t have been more proud to be able to sit among her family as she spoke,” Parillo said. “The board members, directors and clinicians stood in ovation when she finished. She is truly what a hero is about … she broke the barrier about an issue that has always been kept quiet. It is so important, especially with the changing school environments, to be able to openly talk about these issues. A child’s voice is definitely the most powerful.”

When asked how she felt about her unique guest speaker appearance and receiving the prestigious award, Gabby said “it was really cool” then noted she “gets a lot of support from our Winsor Hill family”

Parillo is certain Gabby will continue to use her voice in this journey and “I hope I am able to support her very step of the way.”

Gabby, those like Zarcaro, WH Secretary Donna Pingitore, Farone and even folks at Bradley Hospital will tell you the fifth grade student oozes confidence plus whenever she talks.

Take for example last Friday morning after she helped accept the award from Bradley Hospital. She sat calmly on a table inside the WH cafeteria, smiling and talking with several adults and faculty members.

“Where do you want your education to take you?” someone asked Gabby who quickly replied: “I want to be a middle school ELA teacher; that’s English, Language and Arts.”

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