Welcome to the team, Ky! This is Ky’s first year with Stand Together. Ky also works as a Peer Specialist, using his skills and experiences to help others. Ky loves music and the outdoors, poetry, and religion and philosophy.
‘I wouldn’t understand myself as well as I do without my mental illness.’
West Mifflin Area High School is the other school in our program that has participated all six years of its existence. Each year, we’re amazed by the creativity and quality of their projects. It’s hard to believe it just keeps getting better and better.
Before they even got started with their Stand Together trainings, they were already planning an event for ‘Hello Week,’ a school-wide initiative to increase social inclusion school-wide at the beginning of the year. Students would pull a question from a fishbowl and answer with a student that didn’t know. Then the students would take a ‘selfie with a stranger’ to commemorate the event, breaking down barriers to connection and decreasing isolation by promoting new relationships. This activity allowed administration and staff to interact with the students as well to encourage youth to reach out to an adult.
To kick-off the year a little bit more specific to Stand Together, the team held an assembly to encourage students to Speak Up! and Reach Out! Members introduced themselves and talked about mental health conditions, stigma, and the importance of getting help. Several individuals acted out a skit entitled ‘A Day in the Life of a Teen with a Mental Health Condition,’ demonstrating some struggles students and staff might encounter during a typical school-day. Students also shared resources and showed a student-created a video describing warning signs for mental health conditions, how to help, and positive affirmations for those that may be struggling. (To watch the video, click the image of the students with the signs above.)
Later in the year, students also held activities during lunch to reach out to their peers in a more casual setting. One of these activities was a matching game. In February, student participants would ‘race’ to match the diagnoses to the correct definitions. All players received a prize and winners were entered into a raffle for a gift card. Talking about mental health isn’t taboo-and it can be fun, too!
One of my favorite activities of the year was their twist on the ‘Truth Booth.’ Students designed a make-shift bathroom stall-complete with a toilet!-to change an often negative space (bullying, graffiti, crying, aggression, etc.) into a more positive one (‘safe space,’ if you will). The walls of the stall were filled with negative statements and attitudes, however, students were encouraged to cover-up these phrases with more positive messages and ‘flush away negativity.’ Students also responded to prompts on slips of paper. These included such questions as, ‘How can we make our school a more positive place for everyone?’ and ‘What negative word affected you most? Why?’ Although a funny concept, this project was incredibly impactful to the Stand Together team, the students that participated, and the school staff/faculty.
The team also completed the suicide prevention QPR training on March 15 to increase their skills in reaching out to peers that may be having suicidal thoughts and ideations. (Click the image below to learn more!) Other activities included a booth at their community night, Kahoot trivia game, mental health bracelet with representatives from NAMI, and a self-worth event, during which students selected a bracelet with a positive message they wanted to identify with, took a Polaroid with the bracelet, and wrote on it why they chose that bracelet.
As you can see, WMAHS had a full, meaningful year! The commitment of the students and excellence of their projects, led by advisor Ms. Rowe, are a great reminder of the impact youth advocates can make to decrease stigma in their schools and even communities. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next year!