Posts Tagged first year


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DLHS-Lancers Slay Stigma

DLHS-Lancers Slay Stigma

Deer Lakes High School was more than eager to participate in Stand Together this year; with a resounding, excited YES! their mental health team and administrators elected to begin a chapter in their school.

Since it was their first year, the students wanted to make sure their peers became aware of the Stand Together program and understood what the team was going to set-out to accomplish. The DL team produced a video outlining the goals* and explaining the importance of discussing mental health and substance use disorders. Students shared the prevalence of these conditions (1 in 4 youth) and encouraged their peers to reach out to an adult if they’re worried about themselves or someone else. Check it out!

Students followed the video with an assembly sharing information about mental and substance use disorders with their peers. They showed the Nuggets video to educate them about substance use disorders and I got to share my recovery story to inspire students. It was an amazing experience-over 400 students and staff members were present! The students concluded the assembly with a Kahoot! game; students from each grade competed to get the highest score and prove their mental health IQ. It was a great way to get the students involved in the activity.

Thankfully, the group was also able to engage students with an additional activity before they switched to online learning. The team created a spinning wheel with various options for the students to respond and participate: myth or fact, pop culture, definitions, and even player’s choice! Posters surround the sign encouraging the students to recognize the signs of stigma (S.T.I.G.M.A.**) and mental health conditions (W.H.A.P.P.**) and how to help (SHE**). All students that participated got candy and students that answered correctly got a ‘bonus prize;’ these included an assortment of mental health awareness items like pins, lanyards, pens/pencils, and keychains. Everyone was encouraged to sign the anti-stigma pledge and wear a DL Stop the Stigma! wristband to show their united support to end stigma.

Deer Lakes HS is off to a great start. Although they might not be able to get in another in-person project this year, we’re excited to see what they come up with in the years to come!

*The three goals of Stand Together are to increase education and awareness, promote social inclusion, and encourage youth to reach out to an adult they trust when they’re concerned about themselves or someone else.

**The acronyms are, as follows:
-S.T.I.G.M.A.: stereotypes, teasing, inappropriate language, ignorance, myths, and attitude
-W.H.A.P.P.: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care
-S.H.E.: support, hope, and encouragement

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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TJHS Poppin’ the Stigma in 2020

TJHS Poppin’ the Stigma in 2020

Thomas Jefferson High School (West Jefferson School District) got right into action ‘popping the stigma’ about mental illness and substance use disorders in their first year in the program.

As I entered the lively lunchroom, Stand Together advisors and student members were spotted hosting a table decorated with popcorn flyers and a pledge poster for their peers to sign. Since it is their first year, they decided to focus on sharing who they are as a group, as well as some of the basic information. This activity focused on the ratio of youth who are affected by mental health and/or substance use disorders (1:4). The team was ready and excited to engage with other students and staff members.

Is there a better way to ‘pop’ the stigma than with popcorn?! The Stand Together team had prepared the popcorn and filled the bags ahead of time, but they also had an active popcorn machine on site to lure students to participate with the tantalizing smell of a buttered treat. For the four lunch periods, the team rotated making announcements to their peers about the Stand Together mission and why their fellow classmates should come and get popcorn-AND learn about mental health. A generous donation of popcorn was given to TJHS by the Pittsburgh Popcorn Company. There was plenty for all the students and every teacher and staff member was gifted a bag of popcorn in their mailbox!

If they don’t come to you, go to them! We meet people where they are!

Two to three Stand Together members went around the lunchroom, coming to their peers and inviting them over to the popcorn stand; they also gave them more information about the program, the event, and mental health. While at the tables, students and staff learned that by signing the pledge, they were taking a ‘stand’ on ending the mental health stigma in their school and creating a safer and more welcoming environment.

The ST group passed out purple and green bags with a 1:4 ration sticker to seal the bag. Get this: those students and staff who got a green bag of popcorn provided a visual representation all across the room, a massive sea of one green bag to every three purple bags to show that so many people (25% in fact) are affected by mental and/or substance use disorders. I mean, come on! What a great way to set the foundation in your school, TJ!

TJHS is also very excited to roll-out an online Kahoot! game for their whole school to participate in virtually. In our current circumstances, it is very important-if not imperative-to stay connected. This team is doing just that, all while promoting mental health education and wellness practices for their school community. The group can also be followed on Instagram at @standtogethertjhs and their counseling department at @tjhscounselors. Check them out for mental health facts, inspirational messages, and wellness tips! You’ll be glad you did!

Way to go, Thomas Jefferson HS! Keep up the good work-we can’t wait to see your Kahoot!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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CDS: Steps, Ducks, & Celebrities Against Stigma!

CDS: Steps, Ducks, & Celebrities Against Stigma!

Community Day School was the last of our schools to be trained this year-but definitely not least! This group was small, but mighty and came up with some very innovative ideas for their projects!

The first day started off, well…interesting. The group sat in separate tables based on gender-but just because the tables didn’t interact didn’t mean the students weren’t engaging with each other! The girls especially had a lot to say from early on-and plenty to share. These students were very vocal about their personal experiences from the get-go and were ready to learn and, in turn, educate their peers.

Students spent the morning learning all about mental and substance use disorders, stigma, how to recognize the signs, and how to help a friend in need. Students asked a lot of questions and were eager to participate in activities. The afternoon was very meaningful for the students; many of them got real with issues they’ve struggled with and things they’ve experienced. And even though this school is small and tight-knit, they found out things about each other they didn’t know and things in common they never thought they would. The team built a strong foundation, a sense of community, and a passion for stopping stigma. Students finished the day with an even greater desire to talk about mental and substance use disorders and share the education and experiences they shared with their peers.

The second workshop was a whirl-wind! This group had so many ideas from the moment they sat down in the morning to walking out of the room that afternoon! They had so many novel themes, mottos, and activities, it was hard to keep them on task! The students focused on two main projects for the day using the Stand Together photo booth and Food 4 Thought toolkits. The photo booth has a VIP feel as they put a ‘Spotlight on Stigma;’ students will walk down a make-shift ‘red carpet’ with pictures of celebrities, while being asked questions about mental health, and culminating with a photo to remember the day! In addition, students will be having a duck pond (that was popular this year!) to test the student’s knowledge about our acronyms: WHAPP, STIGMA, and SHE (see below*), as well as myths/facts. And get this: their slogan is ‘Quack Away Stigma.’ (I just can’t…) The students will also kick-off the year by decorating 1:4 steps and their stairwells with mental health information. Whew!

These students are ready to stop stigma by increasing education and awareness and promoting social inclusion. Through creative, innovative projects and personalities to match, this team will engage their peers and dispel the myths that cause stigma. We’re excited for CDS’s first year in the program and are ready for that ‘red carpet treatment’ this Spring! Keep up the good work!

*WHAPP (signs of a mental/substance use disorder: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, poor self-care
*STIGMA (examples of stigma): stereotypes, teasing, inappropriate language, ignorance, myths, and attitude
*SHE (how to help): support, hope, encouragement

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Gateway Gators Gear-up to End Stigma

Gateway Gators Gear-up to End Stigma

Stand Together welcomes Gateway Middle School to our line-up of participants this year. Our new team is just as excited as we are to start removing the stigma around mental health in their school and community.

Two Thursdays in January, students strolled into their LGI space to partake in our training workshops. Some students knew each other, but mostly the group was full of students who built new connections with their classmates. As the day went on, the team-building activities and games removed any uncertain and shy feelings they may have had in the morning and the group was really coming together.

This group held nothing back when asking questions about the myths and facts and mental health diagnoses. Most, if not all, of the students felt comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings about the stigma surrounding mental health and discussed the myths most often heard in their school environment. As the training went on, it was clear the students retained the important information given to them as they blazed through the review games with flying colors. During the end of the first workshop, we also had the opportunity to talk about some of the challenges youth face when they feel alone or someone may be struggling. What an impressive first day!

A bond was already being built with this group the first day, which only helped them bounce right back into action for our second workshop. They returned ever more excited to start planning their projects. Day 2 had so many ideas flowing that it was hard to keep up with all the possibilities! The team broke into small groups as they selected a toolkit idea to really focus on. These three groups shared with the large group their plans for an anti-stigma event. A 1:4 theme (the ratio of youth affected by mental and substance use disorders) was laced through each project idea, reflecting Stand Together’s goal of education and awareness. Cookies & milk, slushies, and a variety of snacks made the list of ideas as well.Catchy slogans, like ‘Stigma belongs in the dirt!’ and ‘sNOw Stigma!’ helped to connect the activity back to the treat they planned to reward their classmates with after they participated.

These students were so excited to keep project planning, they continued their brain-storming session long after our team wrapped up for the day! With all this motivation and passion propelling this group forward, we can’t wait to see the events they finally decide on for their school. Gateway MS is more than eager to end stigma. What a fantastic way to start your first year-keep up the great work. Welcome to the family!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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Dorseyville MS: ‘What does the fox say?’ STOP STIGMA!

Dorseyville MS: ‘What does the fox say?’ STOP STIGMA!

Am I the only one that remembers that bizarre song? But I’m so excited to welcome Dorseyville (Fox Chapel) Middle School to the Stand Together program this year. This roaring group of almost 30 ‘foxes’ (their mascot) are ready to talk about mental and substance use disorders and ‘bark away’ stigma. (Yes, more fox puns…I couldn’t resist! – Don’t worry; they won’t be using this ridiculous phrase in their projects.)

The Dorseyville school and advisors were on-board from the very beginning. At our first meeting, there was a resounding Yes! to start a Stand Together chapter in the 2019-2020 school year. With administration, all the counselors, and a teacher advisor on-board, they were ready to jump in and hit the ground running! They easily hand-picked a large group of students to participate in the training. I was impressed with the balance of genders and variety of students they chose, including a handful of students that were not afraid to self-disclose their own experiences with mental illness.

This group was passionate from the get-go! Although it was a large group, students weren’t afraid to speak up and be heard among their peers, especially when it came to busting some of the myths and sparking conversations about examples of stigma and its negative effects on themselves and those around them. Some of the students were slow to warm-up, but eventually became comfortable with sharing in the group and were just as invested as their teammates. They learned so much so quickly-review was a blast! They really *sparkled!* (One of our review games is called Sparkle.)

The second workshop was where the students really *shined!* (see what I did there?) The students were so excited to share their ideas that I could barely get through the process discussion and examples! There were so many things that wanted their peers to know and so many ways they wanted to do so. By the end of the day, we settled on three projects with a spare if they have time at the end of the year. Lots of hands make the work light and lots of brains make the ideas flow freely!

This year, the team plans on hosting a snack stand, video/assembly, and 1:4 sticky note project. They started off thinking about doing donuts, but with 1000# students in their school, that could get pretty expensive! So they settled on brownie and lemon bites, which is a more manageable and fun alternative. Even though they’re a younger group (both in age and experience), they’re not shy about standing up in front of their peers and sharing their stories. They are also lucky enough to have a ‘Maker Space’ in their school and hope to design a fun take-away for the assembly. And, of course, the group is getting shirts to they can represent their team as they boldly stand-up to stigma by educating their peers, increasing awareness of mental and substance use disorders and stigma, and challenging myths and misconceptions that perpetuate stigma.

Welcome to the club, Dorseyville! We’re already impressed with your wealth of knowledge, wit, and willingness to share what you’ve learned and experienced with your peers. We can’t wait to see your projects in action and see the changes you make in your school and communities!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Hillel & Yeshiva Tag Team Against Stigma

Hillel & Yeshiva Tag Team Against Stigma

Stand Together is excited to welcome two more new schools this year. From Pittsburgh’s very own Jewish Community in Squirrel Hill: Hillel Academy and Yeshiva girls’ schools! Due to a generous grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and other supporters, we were able to expand to all five (!) schools in this community.

Both schools trained together at Hillel this past November, right before the holiday. Students filed into the training space quiet and curious, but that didn’t last very long! The students got warmed-up to the topics discussed and enjoyed competing in the trivia games that aided in review. It was a busy two days! Laughter, team-building, and deep discussion happened with ease. These young ladies ranged in age and grade levels from 7th through 12th grades. As each training day went on, they discovered fascinating things they had in common with one another, much deeper than their obvious connection with culture and religion.

Although the community is very tight knit, the students still had to get to know each other better as they attend different schools. The teams learned more about themselves, the Stand Together program, and their trainer, Montaja. As each topic of the day was discussed, students started to speak more openly about their personal thoughts about the stigma surrounding mental and substance use disorders. These young ladies weren’t afraid to ‘Speak up!’ and ‘Speak out!’ about how challenging it is to reach out for help even with adults they trust around them. Without hesitation, the students created a long list of things that they’d like their peers and staff to know about mental health and stigma. Some of the things they mentioned included:
-Mental illness is invisible.
-Having a mental and/or substance use disorder is not ‘wrong.’
-Therapy is okay for anyone and everyone.

By the second training workshop, both schools were ready to plan and design their projects. After viewing other schools’ ideas and discussing some challenges they may have to work around due to the size and culture of their school, both groups put together solid ideas to carry out their project and the Stand Together mission.

Hillel Academy girls’ team are working on a year-long theme that will ‘bar the stigma.’ They’re going to kick-off the year with a hot drink bar to ‘scorch the stigma…not your tongue!’ This clever project will host a table decorated with myths, facts, and other information to start the conversation about mental and substance use disorders and stigma. To incentive their peers and staff to enjoy a cozy cup of tea or cocoa during the cold winter months and start talking about mental health.

Yeshiva girls are planning on using the Stand Together acronyms as a way to start the conversation:
-W.H.A.P.P. (signs & symptoms: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care)
-S.T.I.G.M.A. (examples of stigma: stereotyping, teasing, inappropriate language, myths, and attitude)
-S.H.E. (how to help: support, hope, encourage)
Their event includes a drink stand to further educate their peers and staff, focusing on how mental and substance use disorders are invisible and effect everyone.

It’s clear to see both schools are off to a great start. They are more than excited to get the facts out to their student body. What a way to start your first year! Welcome to the club-we can’t wait to see your projects roll out!

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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Flashback Friday: Avonworth Antelopes Leap Into Stand Together

Flashback Friday: Avonworth Antelopes Leap Into Stand Together

Avonworth High Schools’ interest in Stand Together was many months in the making. After meeting with their SAP team for the first time last February, Lacey and I facilitated mini-sessions at their Teen Summit to introduce the students to mental health, stigma, and Stand Together. We were incredibly impressed by their emotional intelligence and almost every group had a student share their experiences. It was moving for both the students and our staff. I couldn’t wait to work with this group!

 

IMG_20181105_082119Another diverse group, the students really enjoyed getting to know each other outside of the classroom. Activities such as ‘Candy Gram’ encourage students to learn more about another participant and find qualities, interests, and views they share. Candy is randomly distributed and students have to find their ‘match.’ Then, they have three minutes to find three things they have in common. The catch: they can’t be obvious! (i.e. same school/grade, visible traits, etc.) More often than not, students can find more than three items to share with the rest of the group in just that short amount of time. Although a simple exercise, this activity really increases the students’ ability and experience of social inclusion.

 

In addition, this was the first time our new assistant Ami shared her recovery story with the group. Many students could relate to her experiences and life choices and it greatly made an impact. We’ve found that exposure to a first-person narrative of someone with lived experience with a mental and/or substance use disorder is the most effective way to challenge stigma. This part of the day also lends itself to the afternoon’s activities, in which students participate in activities where they are asked to be vulnerable with each other. The workshop experience is incredibly important to the cohesiveness of the group and the success of Stand Together; students not only learn the information and concepts they need to facilitate activities with their peers, but they also experience the ideals of social inclusion and a warm, compassionate school culture, where students feel free to be who they are and to get the help they need when they’re struggling.

 

IMG_20181029_131652

 

IMG_20181105_082212Although their first year, the students and advisors challenged themselves to facilitate three informative activities to increase education and awareness in their student body as well as with staff. Members will kick-off their year by meeting with classes to introduce the students to Stand Together and expose them to some of the myths and facts surrounding mental and substance use disorders. Their next activity focuses on S.H.E. (support, hope, and encouragement) and encouragesIMG_20181105_104116 and educates their peers on how to provide S.H.E. to their fellow classmates when they are experiencing mental health challenges-and of course, the team will use food to draw them in! (It works!) The team will also engage others in a make-shift photo booth with decorations and facts about mental health and substance use disorders to review what the students have learned in the other activities. Then the students will create a collage with the photos to display when the event is complete. We’re sure they’re really going to make a dent in stigma!

 

 

group 1

 

Congrats, Avonworth, on a great training and we look forward to an amazing year!

 

 

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Flashback Friday: Shaler HS Sticks it to Stigma!

Flashback Friday: Shaler HS Sticks it to Stigma!

This past year was Shaler Area High School’s first year and they did not disappoint-AND they’re bringing their Middle School with them this year! This team did an absolutely amazing job organizing and facilitating their projects and it’s been such a pleasure working with their dedicated advisors. Here’s a glimpse of what you missed:

 

The Semicolon Project (;):

To spark interest in the group and start the conversation about mental health, students placed green posters on every fourth locker to represent the 1 in 4 youth that are affected by a mental or substance use disorder in a given year. The posters read:

Semicolon (;) — where the author could have ended the sentence…but didn’t.

You don’t suffer alone.

Many of their peers were familiar with the Semicolon Project, a national campaign to end suicide, and started asking them about Stand Together and what they were going to do next.

 

Take a Bite out of Stigma:

Students created an elaborate scheme to get their fellow students to learn about mental health. Students were enticed by the rows of cookies at the ST table, but quickly found out they would not come for free. Instead of coins, the Stand Together team was asking for real change-in thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. To receive a cookie, each student had to reach into a bag and grab a slip of paper. On that paper was a myth and a fact about mental and substance use disorders. Students had to read the statements out loud and were then able to receive a cookie. What a great idea! (Random fact: if you read something out loud, you’re 4x more likely to remember it!)

 

You’re Not Alone-Look at the Numbers:

Although it was their first year, students decided to do a very intimate activity. Following the basic outline of a ‘truth booth,’ and Steel Valley HS’s project two years ago, the team set-up a stand in the cafeteria. On the table were sticky notes of various colors, each representing a different connection to mental and substance use disorders:

  • pink-personally affected by mental illness

  • yellow-personally affected by addiction

  • blue-know someone affected by mental illness

  • lime green-know someone affected by addiction

  • orange-felt excluded or disadvantaged

 

 

The participation and the impact were phenomenal. Not only were students using the sticky notes anonymously, as suggested, but some even felt comfortable enough writing the name or relationship of the person they knew that is affected. The most moving piece for me was a lime green sticky that read: Mom RIP 1.28.18, signifying that this individual had lost his mother to death by substance use. It was incredibly powerful seeing the students literally ‘stick it to stigma’ by sharing their own struggles and truly discovered that no one is alone. (On a fun note, they also gave out lollipops as ‘suckers to stop stigma.’ What a creative group! Check out the video below:

 

I’m so proud of Shaler. The passion of both their advisors and their students is phenomenal and I can’t wait to work with them again this year. I just know they’re going to have another impactful year! See you soon, SAHS team!!!

 

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