This year’s “Summer of Isolation” originally seemed like it would be monotonous and boring. But, thanks to Stand Together, it was anything but that! After working extensively on school-specific projects for my school, West Allegheny, during the school closures, I saw an opportunity on Stand Together’s Instagram to join an All-School Summer Project. This post immediately caught my eye because Stand Together teams usually just work within their schools. But, as 2020 has continually shown us; anything is possible! I applied to work on these foreign All-School Summer Projects as soon as I saw the post and couldn’t wait to get to work.
~Click on the text links above to access the eZines!~
The All-School Summer Projects (<< link!) started off with big, virtual meetings. In these initial meetings, the Summer Team, with students from West Allegheny, Montour, Shaler, CAPA, and the Pittsburgh Science & Technology Academy, shared ideas on what projects we could do. With limited options, FundaMENTALs: A Youth’s Guide to Mental Health Zines and Unless… A Teenage Discussion on Mental HealthPodcasts were chosen as the projects that we would pursue. The Summer Team split, and I pursued the Zines. After weekly, team-specific meetings throughout the summer, we were able to release three great editions of the Zines; ranging in topics from ADHD to Anxiety to Eating Disorders. Personally, I learned so much regarding these topics, but I also gained skills in communication and collaboration, especially in difficult circumstances. I am certain that readers, too, learned facts, statistics, and other perspectives on the topics. Writing and contributing to the Zines made my “Summer of Isolation” much more enjoyable and memorable.
I would pursue it again in a heartbeat!
Connor from West Allegheny HS was a member of our All-School Summer Project’s eZine team. Thanks, Connor!
For more information on West Allegheny’s Stand Together projects, click here.
Every year this is always the most difficult blog to write because I don’t know where to begin to describe the talent and passion of the youth that I am so blessed to work with. I usually only try to speak for myself, but I can say with 100% certainty that Montaja, Mike, all our TAs, and I are so incredibly proud of each and every one of you. This week’s Recognition Event was an absolutely magical experience and if you missed it, we can’t wait to share it with you!
A little bit about Stand Together/this year: ST has been in schools for the past six years, expanding each year to reach more and more middle and high school youth through student-driven anti-stigma projects that are increasing education and awareness, promoting social inclusion, and encouraging help-seeking behaviors. This year, ST trained 18 schools, 16 of which completed projects, and 14 were able to participate in this year’s event. The Heinz History Center was packed with youth and adult advocates that are enthusiastic about ending the stigma associated with mental and substance use disorders. This was our biggest year yet, with around 300 in attendance!
Our schools designed and implemented so many unique and innovative projects for their peers. The tried & true food and beverage stands are always a hit. Mental health fairs and presentations are making a come-back. Several schools decorated 1 in 4 stairs and their stairwells, while others created murals and plastered pledges on the walls. Some of our most creative projects for this year included Propel BHHS’s ‘Shine a Light on Mental Health’ paper lantern activity, WMHS’s ‘Toilet Talk’ booth, Shaler HS’s ‘Truth Tree,’ and SVMS’s ‘March Madness’ basketball tournament. Each year the students’ projects amaze us more and more, but the most important piece is the impact the students share about the changes that are taking place in their school culture. Take a look:
CAPA’s The Real Tea
Montour’s ‘Be Sweet, Not Sour’
South Park team
Propel S-Know Cones
SciTech students ‘hearing voices’ at Shaler HS
W. Allegheny friends
Student presenters shared that students are more comfortable talking about mental health and are more apt to reach out to ask questions and seek help. Students are using less stigmatizing language and aware and respectful of the invisible challenges they may be facing. The school culture is more accepting, encouraging, and supportive. Teachers and staff are forming relationships with students and challenging their own assumptions and stigmas. Lives are being changed daily thanks to the work of these students and advisors and we couldn’t be more proud.
Stigma is not gone, but little by little, our teams
N. Allegheny students at the photo booth
are ‘chipping’ (cookie joke) away to break stigma and create better mental health environments in schools and even their communities. Events like these help the students see that they are part of something bigger than the projects in their individual schools-they can and are making a difference. As our keynote speaker remarked, ‘You may never know the ripple effects of your work,’ but we can already see the changes that are taking place-and we look forward to an even ‘brighter’ (lantern pun) future for mental and substance use disorders.
We can’t thank you enough for all the time, talent, and commitment you’ve contributed to this cause. We’re lucky enough to be able to lay the foundation-and then you run with your ideas and plans and turn this into something marvelous and meaningful. To our all teams, congratulations on another amazing year stopping stigma, one project at a time.
The two-hour delay on Feb. 25 didn’t stop the SciTech team from implementing their informational ‘room hop.’ In this activity, Dr. K and supportive teachers engaged in activities with students to promote relationships between students and staff and social inclusion. The team broke the students up by grades and alphabetical groups to implement the activity and ‘mix things up.’
The ‘Room Hop’ consisted of four rooms that student/staff teams rotated through discussing mental and substance use disorders. Each room/group had two to three Stand Together student advocates and a teacher monitoring the activities, videos, and Q&A sessions for their peer engagement. The hallway was also decorated with detailed posters full of facts about different mental illnesses and announcements rang overhead about the event throughout the day.
Each room had a different activity which lasted for around eight minutes before the students ‘hopped’ to a different area. Students also received candy as an incentive/prize for participating during the activities and ALL students received cookies at the end of the rotations. We all know that treats work wonders to draw participants in! (#same) Here’s a couple of the activities:
‘Common Ground,’ Fishbowl Style: A musical chairs style game encouraged students to discover more about each other and create an atmosphere of inclusion that they could then extend to the rest of the student body. Students pulled a question from a fishbowl and had to answer it as it pertained to them in an effort to find ‘common ground’ with other students in their group. If the statement applied to that student, they would move to another chair in the circle. In this way, students had the opportunity to notice similar interests with other students.
Video presentation & discussion: In this room, the ST team screened a video revealing some of their own personal struggles with mental illness to their classmates. At the end, the students had an open discussion/Q&A that also left their peers with tips and insight about how to stop the stigma surrounding mental and substance use disorders in their school and communities.
Each room echoed the Stand Together theme of social inclusion throughout the activities. The team also wore their #BroMeToo group shirts in solidarity for the event. This was just the first Monday that the event was to be held; each grade will also spend a day in sessions getting to know each other and learning about mental and substance use disorders and stigma. The team looks forward to presenting to their other classmates and shared some learning experience from the first event to revise the activities moving forward, navigating obstacles and increasing the impact of the event.
Earlier this year, the group also had a kick-off assembly in which students participated in a free-throw contest after correctly answering questions about mental health and/or substance use disorders. The assembly was held for the entire school in the gym and students received prizes for participating and success.
Thank you, SciTech, for your creative ways to start the conversation around mental and substance use disorders and stigma. Keep up the great work!
The Science & Technology Academy (PPS) has returned for their second year in Stand Together with a core group of strong leaders and passion for mental health awareness all around. Like most of our teams, this is also a very diverse team, full of individuals with a wealth of knowledge as well as experience with mental and/or substance use disorders. These students weren’t afraid to share their own personal stories and struggles and had a lot of fun getting to know each other along the way.
This group had a lot of great discussions about how they’ve experience stigma in their own schools, homes, and communities and had strong views about the prevalence of stigma. They were passionate about the important of education, awareness, social inclusion, and having trusted relationships with adults to get the help people need when they are struggling. Needless to say, their second day of training was intense, creative, and focused. The students ended up with 5 components of a project! Woah!
This year, the students really wanted to focus on advocating, awareness, and staff relationships. Students will be engaging their peers in a kick-off assembly to refresh students’ memory from the previous year, as well as Lemonade for Change to review some of the basic information. Students will also be creating buttons to wear so that the other students in their school will know who they are and that the team members are people the students could reach out to if they’re worried about themselves or someone else. In addition, the students have planned a “Confidential Corner” to share anonymous mental and/or substance use experiences. Lastly, the group will engage their staff in fun activities to promote staff-student relationships and increase their knowledge and awareness of behavioral health and how it affects all of us.
SciTech has a big year planned and we can’t wait to see how the students and staff respond to their activities. Their motto, ‘Stand Together for Change” is a powerful reminder that if we work together, we can change the world. Join with us! Stop stigma!
Stand Together students had another phenomenal year and our team couldn’t wait to celebrate with and recognize them for all of their hard work to end stigma in their schools! I had the pleasure of working with many of our high schools this year and they blew me away with their passion, commitment, and courage.
This year’s projects were innovative, creative, and incredibly impactful. We trained nine high schools, seven completed projects, and six participated in the recognition event. Here’s what the students designed and implemented at their schools this year:
The Academy Charter School: The Academy chose a different approach to decreasing stigma in their school by creating a ‘safe space’ for students who might be struggling with something. This room was staffed by faculty and had many coping techniques available, including quiet music, comfy chairs, sensory objects, and inspirational MH images. In addition, the students promoted education and self-care with the faculty by giving out cups with coffee/tea, an awareness wristband, and a bookmark with the ST anti-stigma pledge on it. In working with the faculty, they hoped to increase their knowledge and change attitudes that would hopefully filter down to the students.
Taylor Allderdice High School (PPS): The students at Allderdice created and presented a mini-presentation about mental health and stigma to the freshman Civics classes. In addition, they worked with the art department to create a dragon (their mascot) painting. Students signed flames agreeing to ‘breath fire on stigma.’ This mural will remain a permanent fixture at the school signifying their solidarity in the fight against stigma. The Stand Together team finished their year with an 1:4 assembly, in which mental health and stigma was reviewed and the students were rewarded by pie-ing four teachers in the face for their participation in the year’s activities.
Propel-Braddock Hills High School: Propel HS has been in Stand Together for all five years! Switching things up from their typical ‘Black Out Stigma’ theme, this year the Stand Together students chose ‘BLOCK Out Stigma.‘ This theme utilized larger-than-life lego blocks for their projects that addressed all three of Stand Together’s goals: 1) ‘Block’ Stigma (education/awareness); 2) ‘Build’ Relationships (social inclusion); and 3) ‘Lego’ of Fear (ask-an-adult). Students did activities within their ‘crews’ (like homeroom) and during a ‘Block Party‘ during lunch. (All those puns!) PBHHS always comes up with out-of-the-box ideas that really get the student body interested and involved in Stand Together at their school.
Science & Technology Academy: Although SciTech’s group was small, they were mighty! Students were given cups of Lemonade for Change that had mental health facts on them. The team used the lemonade as an incentive to get their peers to visit their booth and learn about mental health in a casual environment. The team also made posters that were shared around the school to remind the students of what they had learned during the activities. They mentioned they could definitely see an impactwith their students and that students were very receptive and interested in what they had to say. Sounds like a success!
Shaler Area High School: Although it was their first year in Stand Together, Shaler did a great job incorporating two goals into two projects. During lunch, the team had students ‘Take a Bite out of Stigma‘ by reading facts about mental health and substance use disorders and stigma (education/awareness) before receiving a cookie. Students also participated in a social inclusion, ‘No One is Alone.‘ Several prompts were provided on a large poster and students had color-coded post-it notes to anonymously respond to the statements if they applied to themselves or someone they know. These statements included such as: I have been personally affected by a mental illness; I have been personally affected by substance use; I’ve felt excluded or disadvantaged. Students also received a ‘sucker to stop stigma.’ This project was incredibly moving; the post-its filled the entire poster and it was powerful to see so many students being honest about their struggles, but also have the visual to see that they are never alone in what they’re going through.
West Allegheny High School: A first-year school like Shaler, West A. did fantastic projects that were presented the information in fun, free food projects that were meaningful and memorable. Students not only engaged in ‘food give-aways‘ (including cookies, HerSHEy kisses, and gum>>check out their other blog for the great slogans!), but also began and ended their project season with assemblies for the student body. The first included an overview of Stand Together and mental health and the last had students participate in a ‘Mental Health Jeopardy.’ Trainer Danyelle also shared her recovery story for the group. The team remarked that students really enjoyed the activities and are excited to continue participating in Stand Together next year.
West Mifflin Area High School: This is also WMHS’s fifth year with Stand Together. This year’s projects included an ‘I am…’ reflective mural, their annual Glow Dance so spread awareness about mental health and substance use disorders and suicide, and a Mental Health Fair, featuring a Celebrity Art Gallery, depicting and describing celebrities that are affected by MH/SUD. Students have promoted social inclusion in a Worry Monster, in which students would right down a struggle with anxiety and students could see that they are not alone ; the team also responded to these with uplifting messages of encouragement and hope. In addition, the school’s ‘Safe Haven’ program promotes relationships with adults by creating ‘safe classrooms’ and ‘safe teachers’ that are trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and are willing and able to help students get the help they need.
Lacey and I are incredibly proud of all of our high schools and we look forward to working with you again next year! If you want to see more of these amazing projects, check out our YouTube Playlist, the individual school blogs, and the full-length Stand Together Student Project Reel 2018 below:
SciTech (Science and Technology Academy-PPS) is one of our first-year schools and are led by Dr. Edwina Kinchington and Holly Blattler-Eidinger. Coming in to SciTech, I expected to really focus on teaching the students about what mental illness, substance abuse, and stigma is, but boy was I wrong! The Stand Together group at this school was so knowledgeable and led some amazing discussions on different topics throughout the day.
During the many activities we completed throughout the day, you could really feel the mutual respect these students had for one another, even if they had never met before. One of my favorite topics we discussed was empathy. The students colored in a shoe to describe themselves or their lives. This was to show not to judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. The creativity of these students and how they expressed their lives was terrific.
On the second day, we began our project planning! Before we even began I could hear some of the students discussing different ideas with each other. Instead of just addressing one of the Stand Together goals in their projects, they addressed all three, which include: ask-an-adult, education/awareness, and inclusion. I was excited most about the ask-an-adult piece as I find that goal the most difficult for some schools to address. After brainstorming, the students broke up into three teams to work specifically on one of the goals. When they joined back together, the ideas were shared amongst the whole group. They gave each other feedback on the different project plans and provided great insight in a positive, respectful manner.
All in all, this was a wonderful group to work with who taught me a lot about how emotionally mature high school students can be. It was a joy working and talking with each student and their advisor, Dr. Kinchington. I am so excited to see how their projects turn out! Keep on making a difference, SciTech!