“I want them to see me…as a nice guy they can talk to.” —Bill Blank, Solomon Schechter School of Westchester
As a struggling actor in New York several years ago, Bill Blank had a funny feeling he had chosen the wrong profession. Luckily, a conversation with a friend made him realize it was time to return to school, to study psychology.
“When I was onstage, it was all about me,” he explains. “But in the helping fields, it’s about other people. That felt more natural to me.”
Fast-forward to the present, and you’ll find Blank at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, a private K-12 Jewish school in Hartsdale, where he serves as school psychologist at the high school. He comes to Schechter with PsyD degrees in school psychology and clinical psychology, as well as experience helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the 9/11 attacks.
Blank says that at Schechter, one of his prime goals is to combat the stigma associated with mental illness, so students don’t feel uncomfortable seeking him out when they need his expertise. To do this, he goes out of his way to find and connect with students as they pursue their own paths in the Schechter community. “I want them to see me not as the school psychologist but as a nice guy they can talk to,” he says.
Eric Bassin, the high school’s principal, says Blank is omnipresent at Schechter, rarely leaving the place before evening. “He goes to basketball games, play rehearsals, and tennis matches,” Bassin says. “Anywhere that kids might be.”
Blank even serves as a chaperone on Schechter’s annual eighth-grade trip to Israel, so that the eighth-graders can get to know him before they enter the high school.
One moving bit of evidence that demonstrates Blank’s enormous impact came to light last year, when Blank asked seniors to write a letter to someone in their lives to whom they owed a debt of gratitude. He then suggested that each student call that person, to say thanks directly.
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As Bassin recalls, “One student got up and made the call—and when the voicemail picked up, it was Bill’s voice. She called Bill! She said he was the one who had made the biggest difference in her life.”