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Brentwood: One big, happy…group? MS & HS!

Brentwood: One big, happy…group? MS & HS!

Brentwood High School is no stranger to the Stand Together program and we were thrilled to hear that they would be teaming up with their middle school students this year to create one large Stand Together team!

 

IMG_8250Since we had middle and high school working together, we did three days of training. The first day was only middle schoolers, who had never been in Stand Together before. I cannot even begin to tell you how impressed I was with these students! Not only were they extremely knowledgeable, they were also emotionally mature. They all asked questions that were thoughtful and weren’t afraid to voice their opinions, even if they differed from others. It was such a pleasure getting to know each student and seeing how excited they were for the upcoming year (especially working with the high schoolers).

 

The second day of training was just with the high school students. Many of them had been in Stand Together previously, so it was nice to see returning students. Much of the discussion was IMG_8291very personal and heartfelt, which showed me how much the students trusted each other. By the end of the day, I felt like I had learned so much from this group.

 

The third day of training was a combined project planning with the middle and high school students. This was my first time doing a combined training, so I was a bit nervous as I did not know what to expect. We began to brainstorm ideas that were applicable to both middle and high schoolers. The students decided on doing a 1-in-4 toolkit and a Lemonade for Change toolkit. Once they had their main ideas and goals laid out, we broke the entire group (middle and high school), into two groups. Those two groups then worked on their specific toolkit. At the end of the day, we all came back together and shared our ideas to receive feedback. Each group had such different projects that all related to the Stand Together goals!

 

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I want to thank you, Brentwood, for allowing me to come in and work with both the middle and high school students. You were all so passionate and really cared about this project. I can’t wait to see your creative ideas put into action!

 

Written by Lacey, Project Trainer

 

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Shaler Students 'Show-up' Stigma by Speaking Out

Shaler Students 'Show-up' Stigma by Speaking Out

Many of the students in our Shaler HS group participate in the musical, so we know they like to ‘show-off,’ but they are also very passionate about mental health and speaking up to end the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders. They are more than excited to ‘show-up,’ ‘step-up,’ and speak out against stigma in creative ways. Even though it’s their first year in Stand Together, they definitely won’t disappoint!

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These students love to have fun (check out how they play Ships and Sailors above! haha), but they also worked very hard to learn the material, participate actively in the discussions, and make new friends. The students were incredibly vulnerable with each other and shared many difficult experiences, which brought the group closer together and was very moving for the students, advisors, and myself.

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20171201_104737I’ve been working with the students specifically on the goals of Stand Together: education/awareness, social inclusion, and ask-an-adult, but also trying to combine them all together to create a project that reflects the students concerns by asking them to finish the statement: ‘I want my peers to know…’ Students then use these ideas to design and focus their projects on what’s important to them. Making sure the students have a voice is an important part of Stand Together. When students are passionate about a cause, they will stop at nothing to achieve success. This Shaler group was no different!

Although it’s their first year, Shaler HS decided to do 3 projects, starting small and 20171201_110318culminating with a serious, social inclusion activity. These students are going to use The Semicolon Project to connect all their projects together and stress that no one is alone and that every life matters. They also plan to build momentum by using the ‘element of surprise’ by hanging up semicolons across the school with no words, just the date of their first event and #stand2getherpgh. Would you expect any less than theatrics from this group? 🙂

We can’t wait to see how this project unfolds over the course of the year, especially the social inclusion poster project. Ideas like these remind us that this is such an important endeavor and our students are making strides in decreasing stigma, one school at a time. Thanks for all your work! ‘Break a leg’ at the musical and we’ll see your projects in March!

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SciTech- Achieving Greatness, One Goal at a Time

SciTech- Achieving Greatness, One Goal at a Time

SciTech (Science and Technology Academy-PPS) is one of our first-year schools and are led by Dr. Edwina Kinchington and Holly Blattler-Eidinger. Coming in to SciTech, I expected to really focus on teaching the students about what mental illness, substance abuse, and stigma is, but boy was I wrong! The Stand Together group at this school was so knowledgeable and led some amazing discussions on different topics throughout the day.

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During the many activities we completed throughout the day, you could really feel the mutual respect these students had for one another, even if they had never met before.  One of my favorite topics we discussed was empathy. The students colored in a shoe to describe themselves or their lives. This was to show not to judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. The creativity of these students and how they expressed their lives was terrific.

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On the second day, we began our project planning! Before we even began I could hear some of the students discussing different ideas with each other. Instead of just addressing one of the Stand Together goals in their projects, they addressed all three, which include: ask-an-adult, education/awareness, and inclusion. I was excited most IMG_5023about the ask-an-adult piece as I find that goal the most difficult for some schools to address. After brainstorming, the students broke up into three teams to work specifically on one of the goals. When they joined back together, the ideas were shared amongst the whole group. They gave each other feedback on the different project plans and provided great insight in a positive, respectful manner.

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All in all, this was a wonderful group to work with who taught me a lot about how emotionally mature high school students can be. It was a joy working and talking with each student and their advisor, Dr. Kinchington. I am so excited to see how their projects turn out! Keep on making a difference, SciTech!

Written by Lacey, Project Trainer

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Arsenal MS (PPS)-We are all human. We are people-first.

Arsenal MS (PPS)-We are all human. We are people-first.

Diversity is important and the student population at Arsenal is definitely not lacking in this area. There are over 26 countries represented and the students learn to acknowledge and appreciate various cultures-and we helped them acknowledge mental health and substance use disorders. Stigma doesn’t just apply to individuals with mental health concerns, but can be applied to any stereotyped group, whether it by culture, race, religion, gender identification, etc. The Stand Together team was a very multi-faceted group and they were excited to reach their students on another level.

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In our trainings, we involve the students in the discussions as much as possible while blending physical and team-building activity in additional to the educational pieces. Students count off to represent the ratio of 1:4 adolescents affected by a mental health condition in a given year. They raised their hands to express that they had experienced feelings of anxiety and sadness. They jumped up and down and held their breath to understand that mental illnesses are invisible and simulate the feelings one might experience during a panic attack. Even though we have a lot of fun, we’re learning important skills throughout the day that they will share with their classmates after the workshops.

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One of my favorite things is to participate in the activities with the students, especially during the ‘Walk in my shoes…‘ empathy activity. I love getting to know the members on a personal level and finding out what we have in common. The students really enjoy finding ‘Common Ground‘ with each other and we all realize that we have more in common than we have different. We are all human. We are all people-first, regardless of our background or whether or not we have a mental health condition.

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20171115_122948Our TAs, Alex, also shared his recovery story. The students related to the discrimination he received for not only being an African American, but also having a mental illness as well. 20171115_181625Although Cross the Line was very difficult at first, students were very moved by the activity and stunned by the results. At the end of the workshops, students displayed a great knowledge about mental health and substance use disorders and were ready to take what they learned and Speak up! and Speak out! against stigma-they just need to decide what they want to give away (sometimes that’s the hardest part!)

 

Written by Coordinator & Trainer, Danyelle

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West Allegheny HS: Moving toward a Future without Stigma

West Allegheny HS: Moving toward a Future without Stigma

Stand Together, meet West Allegheny High School. This is the school’s first year in this program and I was blown away by the student’s passion for mental health and advocacy, as well as 20171110_132437overcoming barriers to treatment. They were not afraid to voice their ideas and opinions and shared some really great knowledge and very humbling personal experiences. Bonus: multiple members of their mental health team at their school are all working together to support the group! Take a look at our workshops:

Right from the get-go it was evident that these teens knew what what up (stigma) and wanted to change it. Their responses to our ‘Mental illness is…’ and ‘Stigma is…’ activity were exceptional! I knew we were starting the day on a high note. Students also really enjoyed the empathy activity (‘Walking in My Shoes’) and had some amazing listening skills.20171110_111448

This group of students also tried out a new activity in the afternoon: Climate Change. Change is hard, but it’s important for our participants to be the ‘change agents’ in their school when it comes to breaking down stigma. But if you don’t know where you’re going, most road will get you there… The students started exploring what some of the positive and negative things about the current school ‘climate’ (environment) and also came up with what a ‘warm,’ inviting atmosphere would look like. Using this framework, they would brainstorm ways to promote a more socially inclusive environment in their school, especially in regards to mental health. This activity went very well and we’re definitely considering it making it an addition to our current programming next year!

 

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The following week we returned for project planning and once again, the students really hit the ground running. They were so passionate and had many creative ideas. ‘Common Ground’ is always a favorite break activity. The students were so attentive and detail-oriented. Even though they’re doing ‘Lemonade for Change,’ their implementing their projects in three different ways, something that we’ve never seen before! I’m personally incredibly excited and hope to attend as many of them as I can! Who can turn down free Hershey kisses, gum, and cookies?! They want to focus a lot of their attention on de-stigmatizing going to see school mental health professionals! How cool is that?!

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For a first year school, this group are real rock stars in the mental health revolution! Check out their projects…coming February 2018!!!

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(Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator & Trainer)

 

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Steel Valley Ironmen Building Bridges to End Stigma (MS)

Steel Valley Ironmen Building Bridges to End Stigma (MS)

If you’re from anywhere around Pittsburgh and/or familiar with the NFL, you’re familiar with Pittsburgh’s history, coining the name, The Steel City. Steel Valley MS’s Ironmen have been using their knowledge and training for the past three years to combat stigma in their schools by building bridges between students, promoting social inclusion, awareness, and encouraging students to reach out to an adult when they’re worried about their own or someone else’s mental health. (If you didn’t know, bridges are typically made out of steel or iron ‘I-beams,’ hence the pun. I crack myself up 🙂

20171011_095309Anyways…A lot of the students had returned from the program before, but after the summary, we had a lot of review to do! Students participated fully in all the activities and were quick to re-learn the myths and facts surround mental health, substance use disorders, and stigma. Students always love BINGO (as do adults!) and experienced a glimpse of what anxiety feels like when students were asked to demonstrate who 20171011_101238could hold their breath the longest and analyze the difficult feelings and sensations they experienced when they were running out of breath. Stand Together participants engage in activities that teach the students empathy; even though these exercises aren’t close to experiencing a disorder, they help the students understand what someone might be going through a little better.

Students also learn the difference between intellectual disabilities and mental health conditions. These are easily confused, but we teach the students to remember that intellectual=intelligence (or IQ)-while pointing to their eyes and brains, since physical activity helps memory. In addition, the students learn that individuals with mental health conditions have varying levels of intelligence just like the general population, re-instilling the idea that individuals with these disorders are just like everyone else and are people-first, who just happen to have a disorder like any physical condition.

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Students heard Danyelle’s story of recovery and many students related to her struggles and experience. This is always a very powerful and important part of the Stand Together workshop. After this activity we follow with another impactful 20171011_120456activity, Cross the Line, in which students confront stereotypes they may have and learn that they have more in common than they could ever imagine. That is what ends stigma: knowing that ‘we all bleed the same‘ and we’re all in this together. A person is a person, no matter what they might be dealing with and we are all experiencing some of the same struggles; you are never alone.

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Project planning is always my favorite part of the whole experience and the students came up with tons of great ideas, including a movie night, a mental health fair, and a bake sale, and a sporting event. Students research budgets, resources, and outreach prospects to finish the planning process. We had so much fun and I can’t wait to see their projects in action in the spring. Shout-out to Ms. Dunmire and the students for all their hard work! Kudos!

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(Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator & Trainer)

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Propel HS: Black-Out Stigma

Propel HS: Black-Out Stigma

Propel: Braddock Hills High School had another great year with their Black-Out Stigma week of activities. The students came up with some pretty overwhelming ideas during their brainstorming sessions, but were able to create some unforgettable projects. PBHS is known for innovation, creativity, and impact and they didn’t disappoint!

Although students at PBHS are required to wear uniforms, students were permitted to wear black on a designated day to emphasis their commitment to ‘blacking out stigma.’ Students also had the opportunity to have their photo taken with 3 of their friends (representing the 1:4) to keep as a reminder of the day. The backdrop was created by the Stand Together students with an outline of their bodies and each ‘crew’ (like homeroom) participated by adding insight to each of the sheets that made up the drop.

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Students also participated in a social inclusion activity. Students were given a green bracelet and instructed to write something that they were insecure about on it. The bracelets were collected and redistributed on Black-Out Stigma day. Individuals had insight into what their peers were struggling with and could identify with themsleves; they also realized that they are not alone and have more in common than they do different.

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Students participated in various activities throughout the week that highlighted their awareness of the myths and facts of mental health and substance use disorders. Students that answered ‘correctly’ received a PBHS Black-Out Stigma t-shirt!

But wait! There’s more!~

‘Crews’ participated in a life-size board game modeled after Chutes & Ladders. Things like supporting a friend or reaching out to an adult helped you climb the ladders, whereas ignoring a friend’s mental health concerns or using stigmatizing language sent you down a ‘chute.’ Students enjoyed learning more about mental health and substance use disorders and what they could do to help.

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The most meaningful activity was the ‘Thought Bubble.’ Students were encouraged to ‘Get out of your bubble! Stop Stigma!’ by participating in a moving, memorable, and very vulnerable event.

Students revealed some very powerful struggles, including losing friends and family members to suicide and overdose and experiencing bullying, mental health and substance use disorders, and trauma themselves. Students were also able to learn coping skills and share inspirational messages to encourage each other in their daily lives. Students could not only share their thoughts, but also embrace the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others in an anonymous, safe space. Everyone that participated was impacted greatly by this project.

Not only did the students educate their peers, but they also came together as a group during this project. The benefits of Stand Together spark positive changes in individuals, classrooms, and school culture are limitless! We can’t wait to see what the new group of Stand Together students comes up with next year!

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Environmental Charter: Environment, Friendship, & Community

Environmental Charter: Environment, Friendship, & Community

Environment, friendship, and community are three values that Environmental Charter School values and it clearly showed in their Lemonade for Change project. In May, the students implemented their stand during lunch to raise awareness about mental health concerns and provide valuable information about mental health, stigma, and hope.

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Students were greeted by a student that explained to them who they were, what they were talking about, and what they were doing at the stand. They then proceeded through a line to sign the pledge, pick-up information, and receive their free beverage.

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Students were also given a wristband to remind them of the event as they continued through their day. The the students used green wristbands with #StandTogether on them to represent mental health awareness and 1:4 of the wristbands were purple and had a fact about mental health conditions on it. The 1:4 referenced that one in four students has a mental health condition in a given year. Students remarked: ‘It was cool that they did this.’ ‘I’m going to keep this bracelet on for as long as I can.’ ‘They care.’ In addition, the staff remarked that they feel more comfortable talking about these issues with their classes because they know it’s something that we’ve already tackled. How awesome!

The students were also able to confront a popular meme/joke that was going around the school during the year. Stand Together students refused to get involved in the ‘joke’ and one student explained that ‘suicide isn’t funny.’ These students have really made steps toward becoming advocates for mental health.

ECS did a great job with their project this year and can’t wait to return next year. The students learned a lot and shared their passion with vigor and courage with their peers. Kudos!

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Carlynton HS: 'S(t)and-ing Together' for the 1:4

Carlynton HS: 'S(t)and-ing Together' for the 1:4

Although it was Carlynton’s first year in the Stand Together initiative, they hit the ground running! CHS joined us as a Tier 2 school this year, completing two tool-kits and facilitating 4 days worth of activities during their school’s lunch periods. Although CHS is small, their team is mighty and full of energy, passion, and innovative ideas.

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sandThe first week of March, the students held their ‘sand’ and ‘dirt’ bake sale. Apparently this is all the rage right now, but if you don’t know, ‘sand’ is vanilla pudding with crushed graham crackers and ‘dirt’ is chocolate pudding with crushed Oreos. The students spread the word that ‘stigma is dirt-y‘ and they should ‘s(t)and together.’ Students lined up before lunch even began and their batches sold out within 10 minutes of each lunch! Each cup had a purple flag that had a myth and fact about mental illness or stigma on it to educate their peers. Students were encouraged to read their facts and share them with their friends. Students that completed the pre-survey were also given a code for a FREE cup of their choice.

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At the end of May, the students followed up with a 1:4 day activity. Students signed slips of paper that were linked together to signify that they were going to stand together as a school to stop stigma. One in four links was green to represent the 1:4 students that are affected by a mental health condition. The chains were displayed in the lobby to remind the students of what they learned and their pledge.

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Students also had the opportunity to have their picture taken with the #standtogether logo, one in four facts, and used fun summer props. Students took photos in groups of four, with one student with a different colored props, again, representing the 1:4 statistic. The greatest thing was that when a student didn’t have a group of four, members of the team stood in to complete the group! Check out the fun poses from our members:

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Thank you, Carlynton HS team members and your advisors, Mr. Pepe & Ms. Rowley! You guys rocked our socks off!

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