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Penn Hills MS: Linton Leads

Penn Hills MS: Linton Leads

Linton Middle School participated in Stand Together for the first time this year. I was nervous to see how the students were going to be able to make an impact with such a large student body! When we did introductions, many of the students did not know each other, which gave them a chance to meet new students and expand their support system.

IMG_4872When we started our first day of training, the students were still hesitant to open up and share their ideas and thoughts with the group. As the first day went on and we had many team-building activities, you could see the friendship and trust building among the students. By the end of the day, I didn’t want to interrupt their discussions because they were so involved and passionate about what they were saying. The way the students were asking questions and hearing responses was so impressive to me, especially from middle school IMG_4913students!

On the second day, we began project planning. Since this is Linton’s first year, they decided it would be best to work on the Lemonade for Change toolkit. The students were broken up into three groups and each given a specific food item to focus on. The three food items that the group voted on was hot cocoa, lollipops, and cookies. I was most impressed with the clever names that each group had come up with. All the toolkits really focused on how the group could educate and spread awareness about mental illness and substance abuse to their peers. By the end of the day, the students had written out a plan to achieve for their projects.

Thank you, Linton Middle, for allowing me to come in and learn about each one of you and how these topics mean something different to you all. I cannot wait to come back in and see the impact that you all have made on your school!

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Written by Lacey, trainer

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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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These Dragons DECREASE STIGMA!: Allderdice Workshops

These Dragons DECREASE STIGMA!: Allderdice Workshops

mascotPittsburgh Allderdice High School’s mascot is a DRAGON and and these students are ready to DECREASE the STIGMA in their school by breathing education/awareness, social inclusion, and encouragement to reach out to an adult when someone is worried about themselves or someone else (aka Stand Together’s goals).

A very diverse group of Juniors and Seniors met on Oct. 24 and 31 got to know each other a little better and found more in common than they ever would’ve imagined, while learning about mental health and substance use disorders and exploring how to stop the stigma associated with them. Students played Stop the Stigma BINGO, used M&Ms to understand substance use disorders, and decorated shoes to learn about empathy and listening skills. Students confronted the myths and facts head on during an activity called, Where Do You Stand?, in which students are asked to move around the room depending on whether or not they agree with a particular statement and discuss this with the group. Students tend to learn a lot when their thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes are challenged by their peers. Most of these myths and facts are not black and white, and sometimes heated debates ensue. Either way, these discussions light a spark that sets the fire of anti-stigma in the students.

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The students really enjoyed the Common Ground activity, in which stu20171031_093707dents play a sort of musical chairs, but instead of music, they have to find things they have in common with their peers.

Despite this being their first year in the program, Allderdice’s students are attempting to do a more advanced toolkit, the Peer-to-Peer Anti-Stigma Workshop. This project is like a mental health fair in which several activities are implemented at once. Students rotate through the stations to experience different games/tasks and learn about mental health and substance use disorders and decrease the stigma attached to them. Some of the students are active in the school’s sports programs (the football coach is one of the advisors!) and they are planning on having an activity that involves physical activity. Another group wanted to combat social exclusion with activities that promote teamwork and communication, both things the students have experienced during their training experience.

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We look forward to follow up with them in a few weeks as they start finalizing their project plans and are even more excited to see their ideas in action! Thanks, Ms. Noll and Mr. Matson, for leading these youth and thank you, Allderdice students, for showing up, speaking up, and speaking out against stigma!

(written by Danyelle, Coordinator & Trainer)

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Impressive & Incredible: The Impact of WMMS

Impressive & Incredible: The Impact of WMMS

I must admit, I was extremely nervous walking into West Mifflin Middle School on September 19th. It was my first time ever giving a training with Stand Together and I wanted to make sure tDSCN0806hat the students received the best training possible.

After we started with a game of Ships’n’Sailors, I knew this group of kids would be fun to work with. The students were so enthusiastic during the activity and you could really see them trying to engage with all their fellow peers. When we reviewed the purpose of this activity and how it relates to the stigma given to people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders, they were spot on with their responses! I was so impressed!

20170920_083431Some of the students were returning members from the previous year and some were brand spankin’ new, but they all displayed such a large knowledge on mental illness and substance use, which showed me how big of an impact their Stand Together group is having on their school as a whole. Once we jumped into the material, I was blown away with the students answers and participation level. Time flew by that before I knew it, we were ready for lunch!

In one of the final activities of the day, the students came together and displayed such great empathy during one of our final activities. Hearing the students talk about issues dear to their hearts and seeing how their peers were there to listen and support them was incredible. At the end of day 1, I was so excited to start project planning with the students. They displayed such a level of eagerness to get started; it was inspiring!

On day 2 we began the project planning process! The students had so many great ideas and it was especially neat to see them build onto projects they had done in the past few years. By the end of the day, the students decided on doing a hot chocolate stand to spread awareness and educate their peers on mental illness and substance abuse. To do this, they would add facts to the cups of the hot chocolate! They also wanted to use this same concept but instead of having hot chocolate, they would have donuts. The other activity they decided on doing was their signature Color Run, which aims to help reduce stigma against mental illness by going out into the community and educating others on what mental illness is and what are some examples of a mental illness.

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By the end of day 2, I was so impressed by this elite group of students and I could not wait to see what their final projects looked like! West Mifflin Middle School is lead by their fearless leader, Ms. Roman, who is there for the students every step of the way.

Great job, West Mifflin Middle!!!!

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(Written by Lacey, trainer)

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Stand-ing Together Against Stigma 5-Years Strong! WMHS

Stand-ing Together Against Stigma 5-Years Strong! WMHS

20170914_125932This year’s WMHS Stand Together club has 76 (!!!) students and we definitely started the year off right! Their fearless leader, Ms. Rowe, has been advising this group for the past 5 years and is deeply passionate and invested in this program. She’s even presenting at a national conference in DC with our staff (Danyelle & Mr. Mike)! DSCN0784

We know that our brains and bodies are connected, so what better way to start the day than with a physical activity?! Ships & Sailors is always a favorite of the students, even though they comment that they’re too old to be getting on the floor! This activity teaches students about isolation and exclusion in preparation to discuss stigma and how it feels to be left out or pushed aside from a group.

Students spend a lot of time learning about mental illness and stigma and challenging some of the myths and stereotypes associated with behavioral health conditions. The first goal of Stand Together is to educate and increase awareness. Our team ‘teaches’ the students and they, in turn, teach their peers. We all know teenagers are more likely to listen to each other than adults, so this peer-to-peer piece is crucial in their project implementation!

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Students also spend a lot of time getting to know each other and realizing that they have more in common than they do that separates them, you’re never alone, and w20170914_100957e share the same struggles, successes, hopes, and dreams. They also come DSCN0764to realize that individuals with a mental health condition are people-first, who just happen to have an illness. Montaja shared her inspiring story of recovery and the group was inspired by her courage. Sharing our stories stops stigma and brings us together. The more we communicate, the more we connect, and the more genuine relationships develop, which ultimately end up helping others feel comfortable to reach out when they’re worried about themselves or someone else.

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By the end of the second day, students came up with many project ideas for the next year focusing on our three goals. Some of these included:

1) Educate/Awareness: ‘Big Picture’ collage, fact/s/feels sheets

2) Social Inclusion: Promoting Inclusion workshop, ice cream sundae bar, mask dance

3) Ask-an-Adult: Teacher Twin Day, pen pals, and staff/student field day

The students left the workshops excited to start taking action again stigma in their school-and ended with selfies with Montaja! Can’t wait to see what they come up with this year!

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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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Breaking the Silence: Talking about Mental Illness at West Mifflin HS

Breaking the Silence: Talking about Mental Illness at West Mifflin HS

Students at West Mifflin High School have been planning and implementing Stand Together projects since the beginning of the school-year. As one of only two schools that has participated all four years, WMHS has a large, elaborate program that continually works hard to educate, increase social inclusion, and encourage students to get help.

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Projects began in October, when the group held a cupcake bake sale to kick off the year. In November, the students held a balloon release in which students wrote something they wanted to ‘let go’ of (struggling with), a fact about mental illness, or a hopeful message and attached it to a balloon. The balloons were then released in a moving ceremony. One of the balloons was found 90 miles away and the person that found it contacted us!

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Throughout the year, students maintained a Stand Together bulletin board, held informative sessions during Freshman Health classes, and even participated in a Mental Health First Aid training, including over 40 teachers and staff and 20 students! Students and faculty that completed this training are considered a “Safe Haven,” that is, someone that students and anyone else at the school can talk to if they’re struggling with a mental health concern. Students also connected with teachers during a lunch activity to break down the barriers and fear that sometimes separate adolescents and adults.

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Last Friday, students facilitated Break the Silence Day, a fair-style event at which the student body could test their mental health knowledge by playing games, participate in self-care activities, and help create a mural that was displayed in the school cafeteria.

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This mural was a green ribbon for mental health awareness, made out of the Stand Together students hands, that was surrounded by multicolored feathers with mental health prompts that were answered by the student body, including:

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In addition, the students organized the Mindful Art Gallery which displays works of art relating to mental health in students lives. Works were displayed anonymously so students could express themselves freely without judgement.

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Last week, some of the students facilitated a lesson about emotions and coping skills with the preschool class. The children listened to a book about a monkey that learned to deal with being upset and participated in various activities, including yoga, blowing bubbles, and making masks of faces with different emotions. The lesson concluded with the students identifying an emotion or coping and skill and receiving a green bear to remind them of what they learned.

       

The year will conclude with an end-of-the-year assembly for the entire school. Check them out at http://wmstandtogether.weebly.com/. Special thanks to their advisor, Ms. Rowe, president, Eliza, and preschool teacher, Ms. Bonacci, for all their hard work!

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