Posts Tagged passion


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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 Boys-Slogans for Days

Hillel & Yeshiva Boys-Slogans for Days

Stand Together trained it first ever all-boys schools this past December. This group may of been a little rowdy and a little wild, but they were a whole lot of fun and were clearly passionate about talking about mental health and ending stigma in their schools and communities.

Although the schools’ boys separated themselves at first, both by school and grade, and were quite quiet, they quickly broke down barriers and had a lot to say! That’s a good thing-we want our students to feel comfortable ‘speaking up and speaking out’ about mental and substance use disorders to increase awareness and decrease stigma. This group was ready and willing to share their own personal experiences, ask questions, and really dig into the topics at hand.

The activities were a wild ride! As boys tend to be-each activity became a competition, which made the day quite interesting, but exciting. The youth really enjoyed anytime there was a buzzer or ball, were pretty excited about the ‘bonus prizes,’ and were not only intense, but intimate with each other as well. As Rabbi Hoen explained to the youth, there is a passage in their scriptures about how it’s not healthy to keep in struggles and it’s important to seek the counsel of others. This directly parallels what we’re doing in Stand Together: encouraging youth to #talkaboutit (their struggles) and reach out to an adult they trust when they are worried about themselves or someone else. Rabbi Hoen’s statement really resonated with the students and motivated them even further in their work.

Armed with knowledge and quick wit, the students were ready to start project planning at their second workshop. The students broke into 4 groups: 2 for each school and 2 for each grade-level (MS/HS). The boys had so many ideas, it was hard to whittle it down to just a few projects, but they left the second day with concrete plans:
Hillel Boys MS‘s 1:4 Color War with trivia, competition, and prizes
Hillel Boys HS‘s: F-WHAPP Fanny Exchange Program (fanny packs-just you wait!) and Tea with Teachers
Yeshiva Boys MS/HS: This school did something different. Although each grade-level group came up with a project, both groups will do the same projects in their respective schools. They planned to hold a Do-nut Stigmatize stand and a What’s WHAPP? video. Afterwards, the students will test their peers’ knowledge by asking them myths/facts to win a prize.
These students really came up with some amazing ideas and even more creative slogans to go with them! They’re sure to entice their peers to participate and start talking about mental health and stigma!

I was sad to leave the group after the training, but I knew I was leaving them in good hands and with solid plans moving forward. This group is committed to leaving their schools and communities better than they found them and working together to reduce stigma so that more people can get the help that they need. We can’t wait to see these projects in action! See you soon!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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DL Lancers: Armed with SHE, Defeating STIGMA

DL Lancers: Armed with SHE, Defeating STIGMA

We’re pleased to welcome Deer Lakes High School to the Stand Together program this year! Having worked with this school district in a previous position, I was anxious to return and see how things have changed since then-and maybe run into a few of my old students along the way! That didn’t end up happening, but I did meet an amazing group of youth that were full of passion, laughter, and love.

Although slow to start (they are teenagers and it was early in the day), they quickly gained energy and momentum as we went through the exercises. It was a very a diverse group and students were eager to participate, learn, and get to know each other throughout the two training workshops. They asked a lot of questions, came up with a bunch of great ideas, and made some new friends along the way.

As you can see, the group had so much fun. All I could see were smiles, hear was laughter, and feel the excitement as the youth participated in activities to learn more about mental and substance use disorders and stigma and come together as a group:
-4 Corners: the classifications, effects, and examples of substances
-Ships’n’Sailors: understanding the feelings of isolation and consequences of stigma
-WHAPP! learning how to recognize the most common signs and symptoms of mental and substance use disorders
-Sparkle: put it all together to review and reiterate that mental illness is not a choice (1:4 students don’t even have a chance to answer a question)
-WWYD? students role-play in various scenarios to recognize the signs and symptoms, respond, and provide SHE (support, hope, and encouragement)
-Common Ground: a kind of ‘musical chairs’ to find similarities between the students
-The Big Five: the most important pieces of our training: 1) You matter; 2) You’re not alone; 3) SHE; 4) 1 in 4; 5) WHAPP.
Recognizing the signs, spreading awareness and promoting social inclusion, and knowing how to respond are how Stand Together stops stigma. And we know these Lancers are going to slay.

The second day was an amazing experience. The students couldn’t wait to share their ideas and plan projects to stop stigma in their school. Utilizing the education and experiences they obtained in the first workshop, students focused on what they thought their peers and staff should know. Then they viewed some project examples-and the juices were flowing! There were so many ideas, they might run out of time this year! So much to do, so little time!

The group settled on plans for a kick-off assembly with a recovery speaker, 1:4 visual, and Kahoot! trivia, as well as three definite events to be held throughout the year: a myth/fact spinning wheel, a rubber ducky pool/pull, and a balloon release to visualize the 1:4 ratio and unite by sharing their own experiences with mental and substance use disorders. The group plans to track these balloons to see their impact after they let them go as well, as they release not only their challenges, but also information to the greater community.

One of my favorite parts of the day is when students think about their own interests and talents and commit to contributing a specific skill to the project:

We absolutely cannot wait to see these projects in action! I’m so excited to be able to share my story with the students and staff at the assembly and be a part of this amazing experience. Keep an eye out for posts on January 30th!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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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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SciTech: Serious about Stopping Stigma

SciTech: Serious about Stopping Stigma

SciTech is ready to combat mental and substance use disorder stigma in their school! No stranger to the Stand Together program, this year students returned full steam ahead. With a mix of grade levels and experiences, this group of students spent two Fridays together, refreshing their knowledge of mental and substance use disorders, learning about each other, and planning projects for their school-mates. The team had been meeting before the training to really focus on what they’d like to see change in their school environment. Senior participants are really invested this year and determined to leave a mark in their high school before they move on to future endeavors.

This group has the energy and passion to really connect with their peers on a deeper level. After their first day of training and some review, the group generated ideas in mini-brainstorming sessions. Sparks of inspiration fueled their mission to really bridge the connection between students, teachers, and staff.

The SciTech Stand Together team discussed presenting educational sessions to their staff; they thought this would be more meaningful and impactful than having someone else come in and hold a professional development event. They also wanted a ‘grand-scale’ effort to increase social inclusion in their school; they decided to host an interactive and educational neon ‘glow dance’ for their student body to connect and learn while having a fun time. It’s clear this team is serious about making a change!

Welcome back, SciTech High! We cannot wait to see how your great ideas unfold into wonderful stigma-stopping projects in your school!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West A-Year 3, Tier 3!

West Allegheny High School is returning for its third year in the program and they continue to amaze us with their creativity, passion, and vulnerability. Half of their members returned this year, committed to continue their work to address stigma in their school. With a diverse group and a handful of staff support, this group is well on their way to another amazing year-and they’ve upped their game to Tier 3! There was no doubt in my mind they would rise to the occasion and blow us away with their ideas.

To decrease stigma, it’s important to increase education and awareness to break down the stereotypes and myths associated with mental and substance use disorders. One of the first things we stress is that these are diagnosable conditions (by a mental health professional) that occur frequently and over a long period of time. It’s not just the ups-and-downs of every day life; we all feel anxious and sad from time-to-time (we asked the students to raise their hands if they’ve ever felt this way in the picture above), but when it starts to affect someone’s daily life, that’s when it’s important to reach out for help.

In the HS curriculum in particular, we also discuss various diagnoses and definitions. Students learn about the eight most common mental health conditions and the similarities and differences among them. Although we don’t expect the students to memorize these disorders, we want them to be aware of the correct definitions so that they can address the stigma associated with specific ones. For example, most people use ‘OCD’ as an adjective, like it’s just about being ‘neat’ or ‘picky,’ but in reality, OCD is a disorder involving obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors. It’s not just that someone likes things a certain way, but they are following certain rules, rituals, and routines; things have to be a certain way. No matter the diagnoses, most disorders can be associated with five major signs and symptoms: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care, or WHAPP! (as we like to call it). Students recognize that when they notice these in themselves or someone else, it’s important to reach out to an adult they trust.

Students at West Allegheny also take part in an activity called Climate Change. In this activity, students think about the positive and negative characteristics of their school environment, what an ideal culture would look like, and think about how they can get there. One of Stand Together’s goals focuses on social inclusion-all students and staff are welcomed and included in the social fabric of the school. They used this idea to plan one of their projects the second day. (see below)

The team at West A has always been passionate about reaching their Freshman class as soon as they enter the building. For the past two years they have held a freshman assembly with information about mental health and Stand Together, games, and a recovery speaker. This year they’re going to take it a step further. After their assembly in the fall, this Spring, the students will be entering the health classrooms to spend three-yes, THREE!-days sharing information with their peers, engaging them in fun activities, and showing them a self-created film they will be producing that will include both students and staff sharing personal stories about their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders. One of their advisors, Ms. D, is the health teacher and it was a natural connection to expand her unit with peer-to-peer instruction from Stand Together students. We always say, it’s one thing if an adult tells you something, but it’s quite another if you hear it from someone your age, someone you know…it has a much greater impact.

Students have also planned a Stop Stigma Speed Run (or Triple S Grand Prix) obstacle course for students in gym class. Participants will rotate through different activities learning about mental and substance use disorders and stigma while engaging in fun activities and physical games. The team will also be painting a mural with silhouettes of the team and a pledge for their school to ‘end stigma’ by ‘creating a self and welcoming environment’ for students and staff, regardless of whether or not an individual has a mental health, substance use disorder, or any other difference or diagnosis.

We’re looking forward to see how great an impact this team makes at their school this year. We know they’re going to change the environment and even lives. See you soon!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Shaler HS Titans Stand Together

Shaler HS Titans Stand Together

Shaler HS was another team that lost a large group of seniors from last year and is smaller than some of our other groups, but they definitely make up for it in passion and commitment. This group is only 10 members LARGE if you measure it by the size of their hearts!

One thing very special about this group is that they bring a wealth of personal experience to the table and aren’t afraid to #talkaboutit and be vulnerable with each other. Each individual’s experience was unique and we had some great discussions about stigma, the media, and how to combat it.

Are you ready to WHAPP?! (Rather, do you know the five signs?)

Like most teams, the Shaler HS group LOVED the buzzer games, but I’d say this was pretty intense! I’m glad we had lots of laughs playing Common Ground and thoughtful responses to the scenarios to balance it out. They had such a good time laughing and learning together and were ready to start their project planning filled with excitement and drive.

By the end of the second day, the group came up with several projects to reach their peers where they are (even if it means bathroom stalls), make connections and foster relationships with staff, and host a mental health a-WEAR-ness week to rally the whole school. They were also excited to use the LEAD/JED There’s Help All Around You posters to remind students that #itsokaytonotbeokay and #itsokaytogethelp.

We’re excited to see their projects in action this spring as they increase awareness, promote social inclusion, and start forming relationships with staff to encourage reaching out for help. 10 students, 3 goals, 3 project, and 2 advisors are ready to change their school-and the world!

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OC Eagles Soar over Stigma

OC Eagles Soar over Stigma

Earlier in October the Stand Together team at Oakland Catholic HS met to learn more about mental and substance use disorders, how to help, and how to stop stigma. This is OC’s second year in the program and they are ready to come back and build on the progress they’ve made with their scrunchies against stigma and cookies that crumbled away stigma by promoting education and awareness. One student remarked: ‘Some of my friends deal with mental health issues and they were more open to talk about it at school because of the projects that the club put together.’ They are definitely off to a good start!

This team has great passion and urgency to advocate for change in their schools and communities. Students asked though-provoking and introspective questions during the trainings and had such a good time engaging in the games and activities while learning about the topics and each other. By the end of the second day, the group had the education, experience, and group cohesion to start thinking about their projects.

The team had so much enthusiasm on the second day and couldn’t wait to start tossing out ideas and planning their projects. The group had so many ideas it was hard to narrow it down, but by the end of the day they decided to focus on forming relationships with staff and increasing awareness of the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders and that no one is alone in their struggles. The group wants to plan an active discussion between the team and staff/faculty and produce a video that includes students and staff sharing their own personal experiences.

The students still want to explore creating a ‘truth booth’ styled project, but had so many suggestions, they weren’t sure which way to go! We form bonds and increase social inclusion when we connect with each other and realize that we have more in common than we think. ‘Truth booth’ projects really help individuals see these concepts visually and in action.

At the end of the day, the group couldn’t wait to get started finalizing their plans and start implementing their projects in their school. They’re excited to see the changes they will be making in their school environment and culture and make strides in ‘soaring over stigma’ in their community.

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