Posts Tagged education

TJHS: S.H.-and Lots of Empathy!

TJHS: S.H.-and Lots of Empathy!

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!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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DL Lancers: Armed with SHE, Defeating STIGMA

DL Lancers: Armed with SHE, Defeating STIGMA

We’re pleased to welcome Deer Lakes High School to the Stand Together program this year! Having worked with this school district in a previous position, I was anxious to return and see how things have changed since then-and maybe run into a few of my old students along the way! That didn’t end up happening, but I did meet an amazing group of youth that were full of passion, laughter, and love.

Although slow to start (they are teenagers and it was early in the day), they quickly gained energy and momentum as we went through the exercises. It was a very a diverse group and students were eager to participate, learn, and get to know each other throughout the two training workshops. They asked a lot of questions, came up with a bunch of great ideas, and made some new friends along the way.

As you can see, the group had so much fun. All I could see were smiles, hear was laughter, and feel the excitement as the youth participated in activities to learn more about mental and substance use disorders and stigma and come together as a group:
-4 Corners: the classifications, effects, and examples of substances
-Ships’n’Sailors: understanding the feelings of isolation and consequences of stigma
-WHAPP! learning how to recognize the most common signs and symptoms of mental and substance use disorders
-Sparkle: put it all together to review and reiterate that mental illness is not a choice (1:4 students don’t even have a chance to answer a question)
-WWYD? students role-play in various scenarios to recognize the signs and symptoms, respond, and provide SHE (support, hope, and encouragement)
-Common Ground: a kind of ‘musical chairs’ to find similarities between the students
-The Big Five: the most important pieces of our training: 1) You matter; 2) You’re not alone; 3) SHE; 4) 1 in 4; 5) WHAPP.
Recognizing the signs, spreading awareness and promoting social inclusion, and knowing how to respond are how Stand Together stops stigma. And we know these Lancers are going to slay.

The second day was an amazing experience. The students couldn’t wait to share their ideas and plan projects to stop stigma in their school. Utilizing the education and experiences they obtained in the first workshop, students focused on what they thought their peers and staff should know. Then they viewed some project examples-and the juices were flowing! There were so many ideas, they might run out of time this year! So much to do, so little time!

The group settled on plans for a kick-off assembly with a recovery speaker, 1:4 visual, and Kahoot! trivia, as well as three definite events to be held throughout the year: a myth/fact spinning wheel, a rubber ducky pool/pull, and a balloon release to visualize the 1:4 ratio and unite by sharing their own experiences with mental and substance use disorders. The group plans to track these balloons to see their impact after they let them go as well, as they release not only their challenges, but also information to the greater community.

One of my favorite parts of the day is when students think about their own interests and talents and commit to contributing a specific skill to the project:

We absolutely cannot wait to see these projects in action! I’m so excited to be able to share my story with the students and staff at the assembly and be a part of this amazing experience. Keep an eye out for posts on January 30th!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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SPHS Eagles are Stronger than Stigma

SPHS Eagles are Stronger than Stigma

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!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

NAI: First Year, Fantastic Plans

The sun shined though the huge glass windows in the Lounge at North Allegheny Intermediate High School in early November, welcoming students to their first training workshop. It’s NAI’s first year in the program (jumping on the bandwagon from NASH’s participation last year) and as the Fall leaves swirled around, signifying the change of the seasons, the students were eager to start changing the culture around mental health in their school.

Students shared a lot of laughs and had a lot of fun while learning and growing together. Students learned about mental and substance use disorders, stigma, and how to help their peers. They also got to know each other in fun games, such as Common Ground, that encourage them to build relationships with each other. Our teams act as ‘micro-cosms’ to their schools and the connections they make during the trainings will overflow onto their classmates as well, promoting social inclusion (one of our goals). The group left the first day with the education and experience to come back the following week to start planning projects to end stigma in their school.

Students were eager to share their ideas with the team and ‘dive right in’ the second training workshop. Students thought it was very important for their peers to know that many people (1:4!) are living with mental and/or substance use disorders and that they are not alone in their struggles. Another important focus was to share resources and encourage students to reach out to an adult they trust when they’re worried about themselves or someone else (another one of our goals).

We stress that students are not counselors and that weight is not theirs to bear, but there are things they can do to support a friend or family member, summed up in the acronym S.H.E.: provide support, hope, and encouragement. Youth can also continue to include students in daily activities, encourage their peers in their treatment and coping skills, and just be there for them. We don’t have to ‘fix’ things others are struggling with and it can be scary to sit in the silence, but sometimes, all someone needs is someone to sit with them in their struggle to remind them that they are not alone and that you are there for them.

The NAI team plans to implement a food and candy stand, host a 1:4 photo booth, and create a video to connect students to resources and adults to get help. Their slogan, ‘Tigers Talk about It!’ reminds their peers that #itsokaytonotbeokay and that #itsokaytogethelp. They want to normalize conversations about mental health in their school and help others on their journeys by uniting the student body in solidarity to end stigma.

We can’t wait to see your projects in action, stop by for some sweet treats, and learn about the changes you’ve made in your school with your passion and projects. Keep up the great work!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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CAPA: Stigma Stopping Stallions Return

CAPA: Stigma Stopping Stallions Return

Bright and early, the Creative and Performing Arts Academy high school students filled the library to participate in their second year of Stand Together.

Although some of these ‘unicorns’ (their mascot) had graduated, returning students and new students alike thrived in review games and discussions. The team retained a lot of the information about mental and substance use disorders and, more importantly, how to combat the stigma associated with these disorders. The group got to know each other further during our team-building activities and found ‘common ground’ with each other. Finding these similarities helped them come up with wonderful ideas to stop the stigma in their school and even talk to a peer they might not have connected with before their training.

The second workshop was even more eventful. Students participated in a Jeopardy-style review and shared their input on what they would like their peers and staff to know about the stigma surrounding mental and substance use disorders. They also had the opportunity to map out their ideas in mini-groups and piece together a line-up of powerful anti-stigma projects.

This year, the Stigma Stopping Stallions decided to revisit their art gallery idea, planning to host a space that displays not only art, but also information about mental and substance use disorders. This area will include an anonymous booth for peers and staff to post messages that could possibly be turned into an art piece in the gallery, as well. Another cool idea that will last for years to come are ‘mini-zines.’ Using the information they learned from the training, this group plans on designing and distributing a small, interactive magazine to present to their peers and faculty as an educational tool to spread the word about Stand Together and our message.

No battle is too big for these superheroes! CAPA, we’re excited to see all the creative projects you are working on this year to be implemented in your school!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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NASH:PAWS-itevely Promoting Mental Health

NASH:PAWS-itevely Promoting Mental Health

North Allegheny Senior High School began its second year in the program-and brought their Intermediate High School with them, too! We’re excited to expand our program in the NA school district and NASH has really taken Stand Together and ran with it. We look forward to another year with this group of youth! And it all starts with the training…

Many of the students in the team returned from last year and a handful of passionate new students came together in October to learn about mental and substance use disorders, the definition and examples of stigma, and how to help their peers. Students from various groups across the school spent two days getting to know each other and work together to plan projects to end the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders in their school.

Some activities got intense-it was a pretty competitive group!-but the students learned a lot and had lots of fun. The team had insightful responses to the role playing prompts in the What Would You Do? exercise and were eager to share what they learned with their peers. The group had learned so much and could share the ‘Big 5’ by heart:
1) You matter.
2) You’re not alone.
3) SHE (support, hope, encouragement aka How to Help)
4) 1:4 people have a behavioral health condition
5) WHAPP!: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care (the signs of a mental or substance use disorder)
By the end of the day, the group was really starting to come together and already had some great ideas for projects!

The group was overflowing with ideas for this year. It was incredibly difficult to pick only a few to focus on, but the students combined some ideas, elaborated on others, and were able to form concrete planning for three big projects, including peer education in PE classes *2 days!*, a ‘truth tree,’ and permanent mural. They also want to continue using visual media and videos to share the information with their peers; this year, they’re going to focus on what to do and how to help. By incorporating physical/social activities, informational presentations, and moving visuals, NASH hopes to continue their work to decrease stigma in their school.

Students finished up the day by sharing a behavior that they were personally going to start and/or stop doing to address stigma as a result of the education and experience they received during the Stand Together training. Team members shared commitments to care more about their own mental health, speak up when someone uses stigmatizing language, and let others know that they’re there for them when they’re struggling.

Thank you, NASH, for pledging to speak up and speak out against stigma, to not use stigmatizing language, to share information, resources, and experiences, and to provide support, hope, and encouragement to others. You’re changing your school, community, and the world! Keep up the good work!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West Allegheny High School is returning for its third year in the program and they continue to amaze us with their creativity, passion, and vulnerability. Half of their members returned this year, committed to continue their work to address stigma in their school. With a diverse group and a handful of staff support, this group is well on their way to another amazing year-and they’ve upped their game to Tier 3! There was no doubt in my mind they would rise to the occasion and blow us away with their ideas.

To decrease stigma, it’s important to increase education and awareness to break down the stereotypes and myths associated with mental and substance use disorders. One of the first things we stress is that these are diagnosable conditions (by a mental health professional) that occur frequently and over a long period of time. It’s not just the ups-and-downs of every day life; we all feel anxious and sad from time-to-time (we asked the students to raise their hands if they’ve ever felt this way in the picture above), but when it starts to affect someone’s daily life, that’s when it’s important to reach out for help.

In the HS curriculum in particular, we also discuss various diagnoses and definitions. Students learn about the eight most common mental health conditions and the similarities and differences among them. Although we don’t expect the students to memorize these disorders, we want them to be aware of the correct definitions so that they can address the stigma associated with specific ones. For example, most people use ‘OCD’ as an adjective, like it’s just about being ‘neat’ or ‘picky,’ but in reality, OCD is a disorder involving obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors. It’s not just that someone likes things a certain way, but they are following certain rules, rituals, and routines; things have to be a certain way. No matter the diagnoses, most disorders can be associated with five major signs and symptoms: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care, or WHAPP! (as we like to call it). Students recognize that when they notice these in themselves or someone else, it’s important to reach out to an adult they trust.

Students at West Allegheny also take part in an activity called Climate Change. In this activity, students think about the positive and negative characteristics of their school environment, what an ideal culture would look like, and think about how they can get there. One of Stand Together’s goals focuses on social inclusion-all students and staff are welcomed and included in the social fabric of the school. They used this idea to plan one of their projects the second day. (see below)

The team at West A has always been passionate about reaching their Freshman class as soon as they enter the building. For the past two years they have held a freshman assembly with information about mental health and Stand Together, games, and a recovery speaker. This year they’re going to take it a step further. After their assembly in the fall, this Spring, the students will be entering the health classrooms to spend three-yes, THREE!-days sharing information with their peers, engaging them in fun activities, and showing them a self-created film they will be producing that will include both students and staff sharing personal stories about their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders. One of their advisors, Ms. D, is the health teacher and it was a natural connection to expand her unit with peer-to-peer instruction from Stand Together students. We always say, it’s one thing if an adult tells you something, but it’s quite another if you hear it from someone your age, someone you know…it has a much greater impact.

Students have also planned a Stop Stigma Speed Run (or Triple S Grand Prix) obstacle course for students in gym class. Participants will rotate through different activities learning about mental and substance use disorders and stigma while engaging in fun activities and physical games. The team will also be painting a mural with silhouettes of the team and a pledge for their school to ‘end stigma’ by ‘creating a self and welcoming environment’ for students and staff, regardless of whether or not an individual has a mental health, substance use disorder, or any other difference or diagnosis.

We’re looking forward to see how great an impact this team makes at their school this year. We know they’re going to change the environment and even lives. See you soon!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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OC Eagles Soar over Stigma

OC Eagles Soar over Stigma

Earlier in October the Stand Together team at Oakland Catholic HS met to learn more about mental and substance use disorders, how to help, and how to stop stigma. This is OC’s second year in the program and they are ready to come back and build on the progress they’ve made with their scrunchies against stigma and cookies that crumbled away stigma by promoting education and awareness. One student remarked: ‘Some of my friends deal with mental health issues and they were more open to talk about it at school because of the projects that the club put together.’ They are definitely off to a good start!

This team has great passion and urgency to advocate for change in their schools and communities. Students asked though-provoking and introspective questions during the trainings and had such a good time engaging in the games and activities while learning about the topics and each other. By the end of the second day, the group had the education, experience, and group cohesion to start thinking about their projects.

The team had so much enthusiasm on the second day and couldn’t wait to start tossing out ideas and planning their projects. The group had so many ideas it was hard to narrow it down, but by the end of the day they decided to focus on forming relationships with staff and increasing awareness of the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders and that no one is alone in their struggles. The group wants to plan an active discussion between the team and staff/faculty and produce a video that includes students and staff sharing their own personal experiences.

The students still want to explore creating a ‘truth booth’ styled project, but had so many suggestions, they weren’t sure which way to go! We form bonds and increase social inclusion when we connect with each other and realize that we have more in common than we think. ‘Truth booth’ projects really help individuals see these concepts visually and in action.

At the end of the day, the group couldn’t wait to get started finalizing their plans and start implementing their projects in their school. They’re excited to see the changes they will be making in their school environment and culture and make strides in ‘soaring over stigma’ in their community.

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Throwback Thursday: WMHS Titans Training 2019

Throwback Thursday: WMHS Titans Training 2019

Earlier this month, our team headed to West Mifflin Area High School to train their students. WMHS is no stranger to Stand Together-the program is 7 years young and West Mifflin has been with us from the beginning. Although the group members and numbers have changed over the years (at one point they had 74 on the team!), their passion, commitment, and leadership has never wavered.

The first day of training is always an interesting time because a lot of the students don’t know each other. WMHS, like many of our schools, uses an application process to select their students. Students are selected for their interest in mental health and decreasing stigma and their desire to enact change. Because any one can apply and the applications are reviewed anonymously, there’s guaranteed to be a very diverse group of students and this year was no different. There were members from all areas of the student body, students with leadership potential, and even some youth that have been personally connected with mental health and substance use disorders. We consider this a privilege and a valuable experience that adds to the depth of our teams.

Cross the Line

This day was filled with fun activities, new friendships, laughter, and even some tears. The students explored the types of mental disorders and substances, brainstormed how to help peers who are struggling, and learned more about each other. Students connected through shared experiences and left the day empowered to address the stigma in their schools.

If the first day was full of information, the second day was packed with the students’ project ideas! Small groups came up with dozens of suggestions and additions jumped back and forth as they built on the foundations of vague ideas and dreams of a world without stigma. Students came up with ideas to increase education and awareness, promote social inclusion, and build relationships with staff and faculty so that students felt comfortable reaching out to an adult they trusted when they were worried about themselves or someone else. By the end of the day, they had at least six solid plans, including mental health a-WEAR-ness events with pjs, socks, and ribbons, reviving the infamous glo-dance, and even a unique take on meeting students where they are. (Spoiler alert: they’re putting something on the ground so students look up (literally) to support and hopeful messages! << We can’t wait to see this one!)

All in all our team had an amazing couple of days with this group. They always bring their A-game and we know they’ll engage their peers in creative and educational ways all year-long. Thanks for another great training, WMHS! We’ll be out to see your projects soon!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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NEW Trainer: Meet Lacey Agresta!

NEW Trainer: Meet Lacey Agresta!

Hey ya’ll! My name is Lacey Agresta and I am a project trainer with Stand Together. The end goal of my job is to break down stigma and educate our youth about mental health and substance use. I achieve this by going into classrooms all around Allegheny County and facilitate workshops.

In 2014, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Florida State University. I started my career as a case manager for children and families who were involved in the court system. After that I was employed by an elementary school, focusing on absenteeism within the student body. I realized then that my passion was working with youth. When I found my current position as a Recovery Specialist, I knew my move to Pittsburgh was for a reason; to spread the word about mental illness and hopefully help one person who is facing challenges in their own life.

What makes me such an expert on this subject? Well, I have suffered with mental health disorders my entire life. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety, and ADHD in my early teens. When I’m not focusing on my recovery, I am extremely anti-social, tired, agitated, nervous, unable to focus on one task, not sleeping, and many more symptoms that caused impairment in my everyday life. These symptoms led me to abuse drugs to numb my pain, thus causing me to eventually become addicted. My recovery came slowly, but I didn’t give up on it like I had done so many times before throughout my youth. I surrounded myself with people that loved me and supported me throughout my journey. My parents helped as best as they could, but they weren’t experts on recovery and they didn’t understand the kind of support I needed; they also had mental health issues of their own. Luckily, I had other adults that were professionals in this field that stood by my side and never gave up on me, even when I would mess up. I listened to them and did what they told me to do, even if I didn’t want to. I knew that I could not do this on my own and I had to put my ego aside. Today I live a beautiful life and I never take one day for granted. If I could get through it and come out of the other side, anyone can.

I’m originally from Bradenton, Florida and just recently moved to Pittsburgh in April 2017. I currently live in Dormont with my boyfriend and our fur-babies, Armani and Biggie. Most of my time is spent outside exercising, exploring the town, or cuddling up on the couch with my pup!

Lacey 3 lacey new bio pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You were never created to live depressed, guilty, condemned, ashamed, or unworthy. You were created to be victorious.”

Lacey 1

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