Posts Tagged ECS

Flashback Friday: ECS 2017-2018

Flashback Friday: ECS 2017-2018

We can’t believe summer is halfway over and before we know it, Stand Together will begin again! We’re still catching up on blogs and this DSCN1139week, we’re featuring the Environmental Charter School. ECS has been in the program for several years. Their students are always creative, enthusiastic, and passionate and find it easy to reach out their peers to enact change in their school.


They started their projects off with a presentation of facts about mental illness and stigma. They addressed some of the myths surrounding mental illness and introduced their classmates to Stand Together.


DSCN1136Since their project was implement in the colder months, ECS’s had a hot chocolate stand to entice the other students to learn about mental and substance use disorders. Each cup had a fact or important phrase they wanted their peers to know. These included things like:

  • 1 in 4 people will be affected by mental illness.

  • It’s okay to not be okay.

  • To help friends, think SHE: support, hope, encourage.

In addition, 1 in 4 cups were labelled in green to signify the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders. The students also created and displayed ‘table tents’ in the cafeteria so that students could learn more.


ecs blog feature crop


Their advisors were impressed with the relationships the students developed within their group and how comfortable the group was starting this difficult conversation with their peers. Team members also noticed that students were more open to talking about mental illness, ask questions, and share their stories.



We can’t wait to have ECS back next year for more fun and fellowship and-most importantly-less stigma.


Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator

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ECS: Catalyst, Character, Collaboration, & Commitment

ECS: Catalyst, Character, Collaboration, & Commitment

Okay, okay…Those are some heavy words, right? Those are the four things Environmental Charter School has committed to providing for it’s students. But what do they mean?!
catalyst: to start something, like stopping stigma
character: the way someone thinks, feels, and behaviors (and trying to change these to end stigma)
collaboration: working together for a common goal, aka stopping stigma
commitment: pledging to a cause (stopping stigma)

ecs logo

See the connection? We’re all about building connections, including everyone, realizing that we’re all human (and people that have a behavioral health condition are still people-first), and we can all work together to stop stigma. (and yes, stigma is a part of all of these things!)

One of the things we changed this year is having two types of trainings: 1) basic emoticons for ecs blogtraining, for students that are new to the program and middle schools, and 2) advanced concepts, for students that are returning and already have a foundation. Basic training focuses more on the signs of mental health concerns. We use The Campaign to Change Direction‘s five signs of emotional pain:
personality change (different friends, attitudes, behaviors than usual)
agitation (anger or irritability)
withdrawal (not hanging out with friends)20171025_105019
poor self-care (not taking care of yourself)
hopelessness (not feeling like life is worthwhile)
Students guess what these are, learn them, and then repeat them back to each other, giving ‘high-5s‘ to help remember them, especially since physical activity helps us remember things. And the emoticons don’t hurt either. (haha)

Students also work on their listening skills and empathy during a shoe-based activity, in which they decorated shoes and shared their ‘story’ with a partner whom they did not know. Students also discuss what are positive and negative listening skills and incorporate them into their conversations with their partner. Communication builds connection and this allows people to feel comfortable to reach out when they’re struggling. The students’ job is to provide encouragement, support, and hope.


Students really enjoyed the project planning phase on the second day and came up with many ways to make the Lemonade for Change toolkit their own. Students explored the ideas of hot chocolate, cupcakes, ice cream, and cookies and how they would talk about mental health, substance use, and stigma with their peers. They also decided they wanted to hand out bracelets so their peers would remember the event and have a raffle for students that signed the pledge. You gotta do what it takes to get their attention and get them interested-and then use that opportunity to educate them and stop stigma!

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At the end of the review session, we also give away Stand Together t-shirts to the students that remember the most from the last training. Check out these star students-all with awesome smiles! We can’t wait to revisit them in a few weeks to hear which great idea they decided on. Keep up the good work, ECS! You’re going to ‘change’ minds and warm hearts!


(Written by Danyelle, Coordinator & Trainer)


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Environmental Charter: Environment, Friendship, & Community

Environmental Charter: Environment, Friendship, & Community

Environment, friendship, and community are three values that Environmental Charter School values and it clearly showed in their Lemonade for Change project. In May, the students implemented their stand during lunch to raise awareness about mental health concerns and provide valuable information about mental health, stigma, and hope.


Students were greeted by a student that explained to them who they were, what they were talking about, and what they were doing at the stand. They then proceeded through a line to sign the pledge, pick-up information, and receive their free beverage.


Students were also given a wristband to remind them of the event as they continued through their day. The the students used green wristbands with #StandTogether on them to represent mental health awareness and 1:4 of the wristbands were purple and had a fact about mental health conditions on it. The 1:4 referenced that one in four students has a mental health condition in a given year. Students remarked: ‘It was cool that they did this.’ ‘I’m going to keep this bracelet on for as long as I can.’ ‘They care.’ In addition, the staff remarked that they feel more comfortable talking about these issues with their classes because they know it’s something that we’ve already tackled. How awesome!

The students were also able to confront a popular meme/joke that was going around the school during the year. Stand Together students refused to get involved in the ‘joke’ and one student explained that ‘suicide isn’t funny.’ These students have really made steps toward becoming advocates for mental health.

ECS did a great job with their project this year and can’t wait to return next year. The students learned a lot and shared their passion with vigor and courage with their peers. Kudos!


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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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Environmental Charter: Welcome Back!

Environmental Charter: Welcome Back!

Environmental Charter School was with us for years 1-2 of the project, but had to take last year off. We’re excited to have them back this year to STAND TOGETHER against stigma and increase education & awareness at their school!


These teens were rock stars! They were so focused and attentive and worked really hard to learn the mental illnesses and how to help a friend in need. They had really great ideas on how to be supportive and encouraging with their peers and who to go to when they needed further assistance (Adults we trust: counselors, teachers, nurses, SAP coordinators, parents, etc.). Although ECS doesn’t have a SAP program, per se, they are working hard to create a referral system for students experiencing mental or behavioral health issues and this is AWESOME! These 8th graders get to help their school pilot this great program; what an opportunity it will be for them to share what they’ve learned with the teachers and staff, as well as their peers!

Students listened intently as Program Assistant, Montaja, shared her own personal story on the ‘road to recovery’ and many students opened up about their own struggles, hopes, dreams, and fears. Stand Together often provides the initial ‘safe place’ for students to start the conversations about mental health and we’re just glad we can spark this for them!


It’s not all work and no play, however! Students always love the pizza and pop lunches and fellowship with our Staff. An active body also helps promote an active mind and they enjoyed a ‘brain break;’ most of the students were surprised to see how fast their teacher, Ms. Hibbard was!

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Stay tuned to see what project these students decide to facilitate in the Spring!

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