The Stand Together program welcomes another newcomer to our line-up of schools: Thomas Jefferson High School! Welcome!
The group had their first official ST workshops on two Tuesdays in December, however they had already been meeting as a group in preparation for the training, discussing their thoughts about mental health and brainstorming ideas to end stigma in their school. This group came together on their training days eager to get started, but a bit timid. That would quickly change!
After setting clear ‘community agreements’ to create a ‘safe space,’ the students began to ease into team-building and education. The first workshop was all formal training about mental illness, substance use disorders, and the effects of stigma. Not only did TJHS learn new information about mental health and wellness, they also learned new things about one another.
During the ‘Cross the Line’ activity, the group shared they were surprised to share some of the same struggles as their peers. Stand Together members also noticed it was a challenge to share their concerns; they care a lot about what their peers are going through and didn’t want to add any more stress onto others. Group members shared how much they feel sad when they see other peers and staff going through hard times and they want to use this program to really change the culture of their school.
Thinking about what they learned at the first workshop, the students came up with a list of very important information they wanted their peers and staff to know, including: -taking mental and substance use disorders seriously -knowing that #youarenotalone if you struggle with something -don’t be afraid to #talkaboutit! The group brain-stormed different ideas to create their anti-stigma projects. One idea was a popcorn stand during lunch periods. They wanted it to be interactive with a trivia game wheel and different colored popcorn that featured the 1:4 ratio of individuals affected by these disorders. They also discussed having a school-wide assembly to raise awareness about mental health and stigma. Not only do ST members want to get the right facts out to their peers, this group also wants their teachers and staff to feel comfortable enough to check-in on the students they interact with daily. TJHS is really tackling a lot of issues in their first year!
Empathy is a huge part of the TJHS motto and this project’s theme. With this ‘super-power’ in their toolkit, we have no doubt their first year in Stand Together will have a lasting impression on their school.
Welcome to the club! We’re happy to have you and excited to see your projects!
The South Park High School Stand Together team returns for its second year in the program. With the help of a returning member, new recruits filled the activity room. This year, the group is fueled by girl power! These young ladies know how challenging it is to speak freely about struggling with mental and substance use disorders and they want to make sure their fellow peers know that their group is all-inclusive and a very important program in their school.
Through-out the two training workshops, this mixed group of students learned about mental and substance use disorders, as well as stigma. They participated in several team building activities and by the end of the second day, new friendships were budding. To create a deeper bond, the group took part in ‘Common Ground,’ as well as partnering up with a peer they didn’t know very well. The girls also participated in our most meaningful activity, ‘Cross the Line.’ It didn’t take long for each participant to realize that they have a lot more in common with their fellow classmates than they thought before and that no one is alone.
After a full day of education and discussing the facts, these Eagles were ready to soar into project planning and sharing ideas. After a quick review and a few more team-building activities, the students shared their thoughts on what they’d like their peers and staff to know. They all agreed that #itsokaytonotbeokay. The students broke into small groups to work through their ideas and came up with several seasonal activities for the school-year.
A major event at South Park is their Winter Festivus. Capitalizing on this existing event, they will be hosting their first ‘truth booth.’ At this ‘booth,’ peers and staff can anonymously share their feelings on a custom-made snowflake. The students will then use the snowflakes as a decoration in their school and, more importantly, to display the impact of mental and substance use disorders. The group also plans on having seasonal truth booths through-out the year to continue to promote awareness and social inclusion.
They want to continue to promote social inclusion with a 1:4 day activity fair. To attract more males to participate, they decided to make a sort-of athletic competition and have a trivia 1:4 game toss. The 1:4 theme would be displayed on the bottles with the slogan, ‘Don’t bottle it up!’ After answering questions and tossing rings, they would be able to earn prizes.
With catchy slogans and fun prize ideas, we’re certain these projects will have a lasting impression on their school. Keep on soaring above stigma-we’re looking forward to your school projects!
Mid-October, as the leaves were falling and the weather was changing, Allderdice HS (PPS) Dragons linked up for their Stand Together training. Dice is no stranger to the project, however with the graduation of their upper-class members, new faces graced the group, wowing us with how much information they retained about mental health and substance use disorders.
This group might be small, but they are MIGHTY! Students participated fully in the activities during the trainings and helped their teammates in review trivia games. Not only did they open up about their own experiences, they also discovered how much they had in common.
The project ideas were flowing with no shortage of creativity. Stand Together students brain-stormed many ideas through-out the workshops, from food events to fair days to staff-student activities. One idea the group is excited to work on is a 1:4 day by bringing mental health and substance use awareness to their fellow classmates; they plan to use visuals in their hallways and stairwells on all the different floors to help students understand the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders. Each level will provide information about a specific disorder. They also want to connect with the teachers and staff this year and use their ‘truth booth’ idea to help create a safe space for everyone, including students and adults, to communicate more effectively. At the end of the day, the group was ready to finalize their meeting times so they could get started putting their plans into action.
Dice Dragons are here to stay to ‘flush the stigma away!’ (Project preview?!) They may be small, but they’ve got heart! Here’s to another exciting year of changing their school culture!
Usually my first post for a school is just about how much fun we had and how impressed I was with their training, but North Hills has really jumped-in and hit the ground running. Before they even had their training, they had two events on the calendar! With a whole team of advisors and a slew of supporters (including the new principal that was previously at West Allegheny, another one of our schools), they’re already creating waves and setting the stage for their other projects.
On Friday the 13th, the student section roared as the team kicked-off – and not just the football team! The announcer shared information about the group and facts, tore-up huge posters with stigmatizing words, and encouraged each other to Stand Together Against Stigma. What an impactful visual!
With this exciting event under their belt, the team was ready to start their training workshops. Our TA, Jordan, is a NHHS alum and was so excited to be back at her alma mater-she even attended the game that past weekend (and was already impressed!). As with most of our teams (we start pretty early in the morning), they were quiet to start, but soon found their voice. The students got really competitive with WHAPP! and the How to Be Helpful to Peers buzzer games and were moved by Jordan’s recovery story. They learned a lot about each other from Cross the Line and there was definitely a feeling of unity from the group, even as we left the first day.
The second workshop kept the momentum going as students had already started working on one of their projects. I stopped by on the following Friday to stop by as they processed their ideas-for an event that would be held the day immediately after their second training! Student leaders had already started planning and the second day flew by as we finalized details on student presentations to their Freshman and Sophomore English classes. Groups created ice-breakers, a Kahoot!, and a Where Do You Stand? activity that challenged students perceptions about mental and substance use disorders. We talked about some other projects, but spent most of the day planning and rehearsing for the next day-when they’d stand up in from of small groups of their peers and Stand Together against stigma!
The students’ first project was a great success! Students participated in the activities and learned a lot. The teachers will also be using this information in their own classes to talk and write about mental health. The impact of Stand Together has already gone well beyond the group: first at the football game, the students during English classes, and the assistant principal and one of the school police officers even joined in the workshops. Students were eagers to attack the stigma in their school. I don’t know where they’re going from here, but I can’t wait to see what else they come up with for this year! See you soon!
Woodland Hills High School joined Stand Together for the first time this year. Their new principal, Dr. Woods, was previously at West Mifflin HS, so he was very familiar with the program and really supported bringing it to WHHS as well. We were elated to expand the program to this school and excited to work with such a great group! This was also the first time our TA-now-new-trainer Montaja took the lead in some of the activities-it was the same HS she went to! It was quite a big day for us!
This was a broad group of students, to say the least. Many of the students were in gifted programs, the group were racially and culturally diverse, and many who have relationships with mental health and substance use, whether on their own or in their communities. Because of this, the students were very passionate, vocal, and outspoken about their ideas and experiences (which really shone on the second day!)
These students were attentive and asked some really good questions, especially about substance use and trauma. Montaja shared her story and the group really came together during Cross the Line. We finished the day with some motivational echoing. In this activity, students ‘echo’ statements that help to re-cap the feelings and concepts of the day and stress social inclusion while solidifying the bond of the team as they ‘Stand Together’ against stigma.
Day 2 was full of hard work and fun as the students planned their projects and continued getting to know each other while reviewing the information. The group enjoyed Jeopardy! and, of course, the fan favorite, Common Ground, was a hit. We like to get rowdy and excited about our work! By the end of the day, the students had planned multiple versions of two activities, focusing on a socially inclusive visual (‘Stick Together’ with post-it notes) and variations on a food stand, including lemonade and tea. Lemonade has always been a hit, but tea has been pretty popular this year. Must be that pop culture reference, ‘real te(a)’. Whatever works! We’re big tea drinkers over here. 🙂 (all three Stand Together staff members drinks tea, not coffee!) It was a whirlwind day with a delay and a lot of movement, but the team came together and pulled it together with plans for some great events.
Thanks, Woodland Hills, for taking this opportunity to improve the mental health environment at your school, one activity at a time!
Propel: Braddock Hills High School is our other school that has been in the program all six years and each year they continue to surprise us with their creativity, passion, and commitment. They are mixing it up this year though: none of the students have participated in this group before. Several of the students participated at the middle school level, but it’s a whole new crop of students. New group = new ideas. It’s gonna be another great year!
Most of the students in the group didn’t know each other before the training. We find that oftentimes, these teams form the closest bonds. As groups engage with each other in team-building (such as Common Ground) and intimate activities (such as Cross the Line), they learn that they have more in common than separates them and that no one is alone. Although we all come from very different backgrounds and have varied experiences, we can all relate to each other and play a part in ending stigma.
This year, we were incredibly impressed by the ideas the students came up. Students viewed past projects and took them a step further, amping them up and pushing them to new heights (literally: a balloon release!). I was particularly fond of the ‘Stigma is Sour; Support is Sweet’ idea; every student that engages in the activity gets a slushie, but one in four get a pack of Sour Patch Kids (my favorite candy). Needless to say, I’ll be out to visit that day. The group had some really catchy slogans, too, including: ‘Light the Way’ (paper lanterns with facts) and ‘Letting Go of Insecurities.’ The group also plans to do a mask activity and have 1:4 students put a large X on their face to symbolize the 1:4 youth affected by mental and/or substance use disorders. This is even more meaningful as the definition of stigma means a mark of disgrace. Students hope this moving visual will create a huge impact on the culture of their school by increasing awareness and social inclusion. to break down stigma and advocate for asking for help.
We’re excited to see Propel BHHS projects in action later this year and are certain they’re ‘lighting the way’ to a future without stigma. Here’s to year six-let’s do this!
Another first year school, North Allegheny High School was incredibly impressive. Right off the bat, the students were already aware of many of the myths and were prepared to counter them with facts as early as the first activity. It was such a privilege working with such a passionate and aware group. Most of the team is also members of the school’s S.A.D.D. group. Even though they had some bonds and connections (and a decent knowledge of mental health), there were still plenty of new people to meet and new information to learn and share.
Although the students were very quiet at first, with some encouragement they quickly opened up. Everyone was willing and excited to participate in the trainings. One of our larger groups (30 members), it can be intimidating, especially for more reserved students. The most memorable moment for me was the discussion after Cross the Line. There were so many different perspectives and each student had a unique story to share. The group was vulnerable with each other and left the day feeling empowered to challenge others’ thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors to decrease stigma in their school.
The team couldn’t wait to start planning their projects. As a large school with many staircases, the students decided to use them to their advantage to kick-off the year by grabbing the students’ attention. Stand Together will be decorating each fourth step with green tape to provide a visual representation of the ratio of individuals that are affected by a mental and/or substance use disorder (1:4). The students plan to follow this activity with a video of both students and faculty sharing their own personal experiences with mental health, whether their own or someone they know. This will also serve as a transition to a form of Truth Booth the students will facilitate later in the year. The team also has a few other small activities throughout the year, so they’re definitely going to be busy!
A special shout-out goes to Mr. Longo, one of their advisors. He spent almost a year trying to get Stand Together into N.A. and it’s definitely paid off. The group is great, the advisors are invested, and leadership is abound. We can’t wait to see their projects in action this Spring!
Allderdice High School (PPS) has returned for their second year to Stand Together-and a devotion to finish one of their projects from last year, a dragon mural to ‘burn stigma.’ In addition, they’re hoping to do a couple other projects to reach their peers in a variety of ways.
The students at Allderdice tend to be one of our most diverse groups and it definitely brings a lot of different experiences to the table. There were also two teachers that teamed up with the group this year and are excited to join the group. They also had many returning members and they came back with the same passion and tenacity they finished the year with in 2018. Both the students and advisors were very moved by Cross the Line, breaking down the barriers and stereotypes they had for each other. Several students shared their own struggles with mental illness.
The best part of the day for me was when the students responded to the What Would You Do? scenarios. They had very thoughtful answers and had the skills to assess situations for WHAPP (withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, poor self care, and personality change) and implement SHE (support, hope, encouragement) in their responses. Student relationships and the youth voice are crucial to the success of Stand Together and over the years, groups refine their skills to provide empathy, information, and resources to their peers.
The group definitely bonded over the two days of training and are looking forward to finishing planning their projects and implementing them in the spring. Keep an eye out for that dragon!
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.
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.
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.
Our 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. Although 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!)