Words cannot express what an amazing experience we had on Wednesday, May 10 celebrating our Stand Together schools’ accomplishments this past year. Over 150 students and 100 supporters attended this years’ event at the Heinz History Center. All eight of our project completing schools were able to attend in some fashion and some even brought guests, give-a-ways, and goodies to share.
The chairs were full and the plaques were ready to be given out! After a brief introduction, the program began!
Our featured speaker, Dese’Rae Stage, shared her moving recovery story and the students found hope and inspiration in her words. Many students could relate to her on a personal level and all the participants enjoyed viewing her work, Live Through This, and learning about other suicide survivors stories.
All of our schools did a fantastic job presenting their projects and demonstrating their mental health expertise and changes in school culture.
Here’s what each school came up with:
Propel: Braddock Hills High School’s projects were a HUGE hit. Their creativity and innovation always inspire other groups to take risks with their projects and think outside the box. This year, the students manufactured a ‘Thought Bubble’ that they used to invite their peers to stop stigma and increase social inclusion by sharing things that they struggled with, things that helped them cope with life’s stress, and things that inspired them. Students also created a life-size board game similar to Chutes & Ladders, in which participants scaled ladders when they supported a friend or talked about mental health, but moved down the slides when they used stigmatizing language or ignore’s signs/symptoms in a peer. The students wrapped-up their project with their annual Blackout Stigma day, in which students are allowed to dress-down in black clothes, participated in a moving wristband sharing activity, and took pictures at a photo-booth with an anti-stigma backdrop created by all the students at the school.
Propel was followed by Steel Valley Middle School. These students worked together with their HS counter-parts to unite their schools for a common-cause in their Breaking Barriers Dash. Students also facilitated a Glow-in-the-Dark dodgeball tournament for almost 200 students. Each team had to learn about, spread awareness, and represent their assigned mental health condition. The winners received gift cards. Students also conducted a Kindness Kafe at which they gave away free hot chocolate and ‘Breaking Down Barriers’ bracelets to discuss mental health and increase social inclusion. Students also had a #standtogether selfie station to remind their peers of the activities.
Next, students in Arsenal Middle School shared their ‘Cool-Aid Stand’ project, explaining the importance of reaching out to their peers, meeting them where they are, and giving away something for free. As a Community School, Arsenal strives to involve parents and other community members as well. Check out their project!
Carlynton spoke of their ‘dirt’ and ‘sand’ bake sale in which they reminded peers that “Stigma is dirty!” and that they should “S(t)and Together.” The snacks had flags that discussed the myths and facts surrounding mental health conditions and sold out quickly! Carlynton is also going to be facilitating a 1:4 week soon.
The Environmental Charter School returned to Stand Together after a one-year hiatus and it was great to see them engaging their peers again! ECS handed out hot chocolate and lemonade as well as wristbands to the students to educate them about mental health and substance use disorders. For every 3 green wristbands, there was 1 purple wristband that read “1 in 4 students have a mental illness” to visually represent the prevalence of behavioral health conditions. The students also had information readily available for students that wanted to learn more about common disorders or compare the myths and facts.
Following ECS, West Mifflin MS shared their tier-3 projects, including a movie night featuring Inside Out and a Color Run, which was open for the whole community. Students also performed skits to talk about mental health and stigma before and during these events. One of the highlights of the day was the students interacting with guests, offering hugs-and giving them, along with passing out a pin with a motivational phrase written on it. There was definitely a lot of love going around the room!
Steel Valley HS capitalized on Valentine’s Day with their “Love is louder than any mental illness” campaign. Students decorated lockers with mental health facts and positive messages. They also held a door-decorating contest between homerooms that focused on educating each other about mental health disorders. The students largest event was a mental health fair. Students visited tables and activities set-up around the gym during their lunch periods to learn more about mental health conditions and stigma, participate in social inclusion activities, and de-stress through dancing, Twister, and coloring books. Steel Valley’s innovative theme made a huge impact in their school environment and many faculty members, as well.
West Mifflin HS wrapped up the program describing their full year of events aimed at ending the stigma attached with mental health disorders. Early in the year, students held a balloon release for students to ‘let go’ of struggles and ‘soar;’ regardless of what was going on, students came together in a moving ceremony to ‘stand together’ in hope. Other projects included educating the preschool students, hosting a bake sale, holding a throwback dance, and presenting a school assembly. Another big event included their mental health fair. Much like SVHS, students learned about mental health, participated in social inclusion and coping skill activities, and played games that not only engaged students and rewarded them with prizes, but provided them with reminders of the things they learned that day. (Did you see some of the prizes above that they also handed out at the event?!)
It was an absolutely fantastic event and everyone had a great time. Students and other attendees left inspired to address stigma in their schools and communities and continue in their plight to increase awareness, increase social inclusion, and encourage reaching out to an adult. Thank you all for everything you do for Stand Together! See you next year!
If you’re interested about learning more about Stand Together or bringing to to YOUR SCHOOL, please contact Danyelle Hooks at (412)350-3455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.