Posts Tagged Arsenal

Arsenal MS addresses stigma-one ‘kuppa Kool-Aid’ at a time!

Arsenal MS addresses stigma-one ‘kuppa Kool-Aid’ at a time!

Arsenal MS is no stranger to Stand Together, but this year they definitely amped up their game. Although they are a small group, they are mighty and the diversity really propels the group to explore MH in a new way.

improvised sign

Stand Together students held three Kool-Aid Stands (‘Aid’-like assistance, get it? haha) this past Spring to promote access to resources and social inclusion, two of Stand Together’s three goals. In the past, the Arsenal team had focuses only on education/awareness, so this definitely brought stopping stigma at their school to a whole new level, by making it ‘okay to not be okay’ and ‘okay to get help.’


The Stand Together team posted the pledge and a signed poster with easy ways to remember their cause:

1) I will end stigma towards youth and adults with mental illness!
2) Caring friends make all the difference in a person’s recovery.
3) I will NOT tease youth and adults with mental illness!
4) If my friend is in danger, I will try to get them help!
5) I will NOT use mean words towards ANYONE.

DSCN1165Students moved though two stations, one for each goal. At the first stations, students signed the Stand Together pledge to receive a green wristband, representing Mental Health Awareness. These bracelets served as a reminder of what the students ‘signed on’ for that day. Students then proceeded to the actual Stand, where they had to show their wristband to get a ‘kuppa Kool-Ade.’ Students were also handed a slip with a mental health/crisis resource on it. cropped slipsThese slips included information on re:SOLVE crisis center/hotline, the crisis text-line (741-741), ‘Safe Places,’ and the school resource lead, Mr. McCarthy (who is also Stand Together’s advisor!)


The student body sipped their Kool-Ade while learning how to stop stigma in their school. The group even got to do two of their events outside-talk about promoting mental health and self-care!!! We look forward to working with Arsenal again next year. Thanks for all your hard work, team! Kudos!


Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator

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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.


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.


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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Arsenal MS: Cool Aid Stand

Arsenal MS: Cool Aid Stand

Arsenal MS had another great Lemonade 4 Change project this year. Their team, the Stigma Stoppers, implemented three separate ‘Cool Aid Stands’ in an effort to promote understanding and inclusion among their student body regarding mental illness, particularly concerning the stigma associated with seeking and receiving treatment. The Cool Aid Stand represented three aspects of the project: 1) It’s COOL to talk about mental health & disorders; 2) It’s OKAY to get help; and 3) STAND-well, obviously they were giving something away.

Students designed shirts to demonstrate their unique qualities and represent the Stigma Stoppers. They also added #hashtags to talk more about their cause and encourage other students to talk about #mentalillness and #stigma on social media.


Students had three kinds of Kool-Ade for the students to choose from that the team was giving away for free. Each cup had a question about mental illness or stigma written on it. The idea was that the students would read the questions and this would spark conversations with the team members, as well as their peer groups. Individuals were also given the option to have their drink ‘extra sweet’ if they answered the question correctly and became a ‘life saver’ (the candy) for someone they know that may be experiencing mental health concerns. The team members were there to respond to questions and engaged the ‘customers’ in further conversation about stigma and mental health awareness.


Students also participated in the school’s parent day, at which they had the opportunity to share their cause with parents and school staff, continuing the conversation about mental health.

Parent lunch pic

These students really impressed me this year. Although the training was difficult, they put aside their differences and really came together as a team. They definitely facilitated an impactful project! Thanks, Arsenal Stigma Stoppers and Mr. Bryan!

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Recognition Event 2017

Recognition Event 2017

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.

Arsenal giveaways WMHS giveaways

The chairs were full and the plaques were ready to be given out! After a brief introduction, the program began!

crowd plaques

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.

Dese speaks Dese and WMMS students

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 gameboard Propel bubble

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.

SVMS and MikkiSVMS presentation

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!

Arsenal students     DSCN0475

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.

Carlynton award Carlynton presentation

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.

ECS table ECS award

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!

WMMS group pic WMMS hug

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.

SVHS table SVHS presentation

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?!)

WMHS award WMHS table


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!

Student smiles


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

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Helping Students Realize their Potential: National School Counselor's Week

Helping Students Realize their Potential: National School Counselor's Week

School counselors not only prepare students for life beyond the confines of the middle/high school, but also provide support and encouragement. More and more, school counselors are the adult a student turns to when they find they need help. The American School Counselor Association states that “school counselors help students focus on academic, career, and social/emotional development so students can achieve success in school and are prepared to lead fulfilling lives as responsible members of society” (ASCA). Some of the other things counselors are…2-8-17 NSCW poster

Today, school counselors are some of the most important and prominent members of a school’s faculty. They’re caring, compassionate, and genuinely concerned with the well being of the children they deal with. Social, behavioral, mental, and emotional problems are also often addressed by school counselors as well. For instance, school counselors will often help students who are struggling academically; being bullied by peers; abuse drugs or alcohol; or experiencing abuse or other problems at home. School counselors might also help students who are dealing with issues such as low self-esteem and time management.

Some of our Stand Together advisors are school counselors or are employed in that capacity in our schools.

2-8-17 Ms. Cap-Linda Capozzoli, Brentwood High School: Brentwood has participated in Stand Together for 3 years now. The director of Special Education for the district had requested the school get involved in the project and they have had great success. For several years the group has also worked together with the video production team to create informative PSA’s for suicide prevention and Stand Together itself.

-Bryan McCarthy, Arsenal Middle School: Arsenal has also been involved with Stand Together for 3 years. Initially the program was under the direction of the school social worker, Monica Tillman, but has since been facilitated by Mr. McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy actually works for Communities in Schools. A CIS Site Coordinator works inside schools to assess needs and deliver necessary resources. These Coordinators are consistent, caring adults whose job is to support students to succeed, whether it be in the classroom or dealing with something outside of their control or in their environments.2-8-17 Ms. Dojo

-Stacie Dojonovic, Ph.D., Fox Chapel Area High School: This is Fox Chapel’s first year with Stand Together. Ms. Dojonovic is the Transition Facilitator at the school, but is also a LPC, a licensed professional counselor. She also advises the school’s Best Buddies program, an inclusion initiative with special emphasis on students with disabilities. Having both programs in their school affords Fox Chapel an unique opportunity to combat stigma from multiple perspectives as well as partner to increase their impact on the student body.

Thank you, School Counselors (and like professionals!) for all you do for our students, schools and communities. Stand Together appreciates your committment to meeting each individual where they are and helping them to be the best they can be!

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Arsenal MS: Empathy, Team-building, & Unity

Arsenal MS: Empathy, Team-building, & Unity

Alyssa and I spent the last two Tuesdays at Arsenal Middle School in Lawrenceville working with 6-8th graders. Although a rowdy group, they have big hearts and are trying to survive in often unfairly rough situations. We spent a lot of time working on empathy, team-building, and unity.

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Students spent the first week much like the other schools, learning about mental illnesses, stigma, and each other. The second week, we really focused on finding the unity to STAND TOGETHER and work as a team against stigma through empathy. Some students had never heard this word before and we discussed how it differs from sympathy. Empathy leads to understanding and we all want to be heard.

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Students had some very tough discussions about hot topics and shared some of their experiences. By doing so, they learned they are more alike than they are different and we all want the same things: acceptance, respect…and money! (That was the most popular of the three things they wished for!)

The students came up with some great ideas for their Lemonade for Change project and we’re excited to come back in the Spring! For some of the activities we used for empathy, click here and here!


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