Leigh Forte: Many EHHS Students’ Secret Support System

Miss Leigh Forte: clinician, counselor, artist, friend, and much more than what meets the eye. The resources Miss Leigh and the Behavioral Health Clinic (BHC) have to offer serve as an oasis for students that many do not even realize they have access too.

The BHC provides students with clinical sessions and outpatient therapy right in the school without co-pays or charges draining families pocketbooks. Miss Leigh is the director of the program not only in East Haven, but she oversees clinicians all along the shoreline. EHHS hosts Miss Leigh, who works for a company called Community Health Center, and Susan Hogan, another full time clinician, at the school so that they can provide students with therapeutic help in the comfort of their own school. Any student can go to the clinic; their parents just need to sign them up and fill out forms according to Miss Leigh.

In addition to typical clinical sessions, Miss Leigh has a Masters Degree in art therapy. She shares that art therapy, “focuses on empowering students to figure out what they feel and how to express it in an appropriate way.” Tying into EHHS’ core values to explore, empower, and achieve, Miss Leigh empowering students to take their struggles and better themselves is one of the many ways the BHC and the school work together. Her art therapy students recently had a display in the district art show. This was a wonderful experience for the students because, according to Miss Leigh, people were able to leave comments about their work, and it inspires the students to keep going with art making and gives their self esteem a boost.

Art therapy students’ display at the district art show.

Photo Credit: Leigh Forte

Miss Leigh is there for her kids in whatever capacity they need, whether it be clinical sessions, art therapy, or just someone to talk to. “Sometimes I'm just a room; sometimes students just need to walk in here having a very stressful day and just yell and carry on for a minute and then pull themselves back together. We want to keep everybody in class and in school and make sure they're living full and well. I want to make sure they're prepared for adulthood when they leave here. I'm here to be a perspective,” Leigh shared. She enjoys being able to have a different relationship with the students then the school and staff and just letting them know that she is always there.

Before coming to work at EHHS, Miss Leigh gained 24 years of combined experience. From outpatient clinical therapy and inpatient hospital programs to substance abuse programs and hospice, Miss Leigh seems to have done it all. In 2014, she had been working for the state over seeing Medicaid and somebody called her and asked if she would like to come and do therapy at East Haven. Being from East Haven, she decided to come work for the community she grew up in. Starting in Momauguin Elementary School, Miss Leigh eventually came to work for the high school.

Photo Credit: Leigh Forte

At the end of the day, Miss Leigh’s greatest pleasure is her kids and she loves what she does. She is saddened by the stigma around mental health in the East Haven community and wants people to realize that mental health does not necessarily mean mental illness to the sense of there's something wrong with you. She shared, “I don't believe that there is anything wrong with any of the people I see. I believe everybody is appropriately stressed or distressed or sad, and I always say that this high school is the hardest time of your life because you're asked to do everything on faith and piece together who you are. All I'm looking for is to be a support and hopefully a guide while you're trying to figure all that out, and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Everybody can use this service, I wish I had something like this when I was in high school.” Miss Leigh is known for her hugs and expressed that she likes to give big hugs to let her kids know that they have a place no matter what. This feeling is reciprocated by her kids who appreciate all she does. Senior Mikayla Raffone said, “Miss Leigh shapes all the students very well by providing a variety of activities for everyone to become more comfortable with themselves and encourages us to talk about what’s wrong. I would definitely recommend because it’s a great way for students to get help if they need it. It’s completely safe, and I love going.”

Miss Leigh even opened her own practice so that students can continue to see her after they graduate. The love she has for her students is apparent in the passion she has speaking about her job. Her caring personality shapes the environment of the BHC, making it an amazing space for students to unwind and receive any help they may need. The next time you feel stressed, overwhelmed, need someone to listen, or a shoulder to cry on stop, in the BHC to visit Miss Leigh. She might just hook you in with one of her famous hugs and become a support that you never knew you were missing.